Crops

Meet MFA's new director of agronomy

Helping growers economically manage pests has been my passion for the past decade—from my un­dergraduate studies to my graduate research to my most recent work with the USDA-ARS Sugarcane Re­search Unit in southeast Louisiana. There, I focused on integrated weed management strategies to control annual and perennial grasses that are especially problematic for sugar­cane growers.

While Missouri has its fair share of specialty crops, sugarcane isn’t one of them. But weed control is a common struggle for producers, no matter what they’re growing. It is extremely rewarding coming back to the same fields with much lower weed densities years later after having a discussion on results from what research has shown.

I’m not only passionate about agricultural research and its results, but I’m also a strong believer that being stewards of our natural re­sources and passing down knowl­edge are essential for the success of future agriculturalists and rural communities. I’m bringing that philosophy to my new role as MFA Incorporated’s director of agronomy. You’ll hear from me regularly here in Today’s Farmer as well as other MFA print and online resources.

Though I’ve spent the past four years in Louisiana, I’m no strang­er to Missouri agriculture. I was raised near Washington, Mo., which has long been known as the corn cob pipe capital of the world. During the summers as a youngster, I would help my uncle put up hay and bushhog pastures. I also showed hogs at the Wash­ington Town and Country Fair for 11 years. My family had several rows of blackberries, raspberries and strawberries, which were sold locally. The trade-off, if you will, was us kids did a lot of the weeding throughout the spring and sum­mer—all by hand.

I went to the University of Mis­souri in Columbia and received a bachelor’s degree in crop manage­ment in 2011 and a master of sci­ence in plant, insect and microbial sciences in 2013 under the direc­tion of Dr. Kevin Bradley. In 2017, I completed my Ph.D. in botany and plant pathology at Purdue Universi­ty with Dr. Bill Johnson. Managing glyphosate-resistant giant ragweed, waterhemp and Palmer amaranth made up the bulk of my thesis and dissertation research.

I’m joining MFA at a busy time for our agronomy team and grow­ers. I’ve already made field visits across the trade territory, including our two training sites in Boonville and east of Columbia where variety, fertilizer, seeding rate and seed treatment trials will be conducted. My first several months will require significant time investment in get­ting up to speed with the team and products MFA offers to growers.

In many ways, I compare this orientation period to what it takes to prepare for the annual student weed science contest I participat­ed in as a graduate student. To be successful, it required everyone on the team to be accountable, come prepared, communicate and work together effectively. This was espe­cially critical for the team sprayer calibration competition, in which you were not only evaluated on ac­curacy but also efficiency. My team did especially well in the event, reflecting our ability to foresee and anticipate what we needed to do next. In some instances, sprayer tips were intentionally damaged, which required team members to spend more time finding a func­tional tip of the appropriate size and spray angle. Team members would never sit and wait—they would automatically see what we needed to do next to shave off seconds from our time. This is what made us successful.

This philosophy has not changed much at all to where we are today. I’m looking forward to helping bridge MFA’s sales, agronomy and precision folks into a more cohesive and interactive group. At the end of the day, we all have something to learn from one another. I also want to encourage an open mind­set. A healthy debate in a respectful manner is good and helps move us forward as a team.

I’m eager to put my education, background and experience to work for MFA personnel, growers and customers across our geography. With spring planting season well under way, this is the time for our agronomy team to shine. I’m glad to be part of it.

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Agricultural wetlands attract diversity of wildlife for hunting and more

Even if you don’t live near a natu­ral wetland, practically anyone with access to a farm or ranch can turn fields into outstanding waterfowl habitat. Flooding crop fields in the fall and winter to attract ducks, geese and other wildlife is a popular land management tool for hunters and wildlife enthusiasts.

It’s not just about mallards cupped over decoys. There are countless other species that count on quality wetlands for their life cycles and migrations. Ducks and geese are attracted to grain and weed seeds, while shorebirds, wading birds and mammals visit flooded fields in search of fish and invertebrates.

Waterfowl migrations are ex­tremely complex in both spring and fall, but there are some manage­ment actions that you can do now to ensure adequate amounts of the food these birds are seeking.

Corn is king

The age-old deer hunter question, “What should I plant in my food plot?” is rarely heard in the water­fowl world. For ducks, you want corn. First of all, corn produces a high-carbohydrate food that is quick and easy for ducks to access even in cold, frozen, challenging conditions. But to waterfowl hunt­ers, corn can be much more than just duck food. A corn crop also provides tall cover that can conceal hunters from weary waterfowl.

Corn planted in rows near open water can also trigger a duck’s inherent quest for a “hemi-marsh,” consisting of about 50% open water and 50% standing vegetation. Pud­dle ducks such as mallards are most attracted to this type of flooded habitat. It’s indicative of wetlands that have drawn down to allow for plant germination and then reflood­ed. It’s where ducks can find ample food to fuel migration.

When planting corn in a wetland area, here are other considerations:

1. Make food plot plantings where you can flood the crop with at least 12-18 inches of water.

2. Select varieties with fewer days to maturity. Planting dates in low, wet areas are typically later.

3. Select varieties that are shorter in stature with a lower ear height. The lower the ears, the less wa­ter depth needed for waterfowl to reach the grain.

4. Use a traited variety to simpli­fy over-the-top weed control and prevent insect damage that could cause lodging.

5. Make a planned nitrogen topdress application. Wet soils in low areas are not good candidates for preplant-only N management. Ponded water and warmer soil from later planting may lead to significant N losses.

6. Plant corn near areas that can easily be mowed to create open water or contain a harvestable crop of soybeans that can be removed to create open water.

7. Ensure the remaining crop stays standing and unmanipulated to comply with federal migratory bird regulations.

Flooding in fall

As temperatures start to cool in the fall, “When should I flood?” becomes the important question. From a waterfowl-hunting scenario, the answer likely depends on your hunting zone, nearby habitat and when you plan to hunt the most. Typically for most of Missouri, peak waterfowl numbers occur sometime in November. However, the seasons run past these peak times. In any case, flooding gradually and trying to provide the most food through­out the season is important if you’re focused on overall bird usage. Many times, when flooding areas of harvested and standing grain crops, the water level is increased too fast. There is a lot of quality food and foraging opportunities for the ducks in shallowly flooded harvested crops or weedy moist soil. If you have pumping capabilities, increase water levels incrementally to flood new acres and provide fresh forage slowly through the season.

Dewatering in spring

Just as flooding and water depth are important when looking to flood a food source you’ve stewarded all summer long, drawing that water off the next spring should be done with purpose to provide the best foraging conditions for the birds. Dewatering slowly in the spring allows aquatic insects to congregate at the receding shoreline, making optimal foraging conditions for waterfowl. These protein-packed insects are critical for setting the stage for the reproduction needed for good duck numbers the follow­ing year. Wetland pools do not need to be dry in the spring to have good conditions for another crop. Corn or other grain foods planted late in the year can provide large amounts of food for the next season. Draw down slowly, enjoy the wetland wildlife, and remember, “It’s all for the ducks!”

If you have any questions or need some tips and tricks for wetland management, feel free to reach out to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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Stabilizers can help protect yields and your fertilizer investment

Going into the 2021 growing season, producers have a better opportunity for profitability than we’ve experienced in several years. Commodity prices have been on the rise, and the weather outlook points to a great start for spring in MFA’s trade territory.

We’ve also seen fertilizer markets surge over the past several months. Nitrogen, phosphate and potash prices have all been on the upswing, subject to the forces of shorter supplies and larger demand, and that trend is expected to continue throughout the spring and summer.

This is definitely a year when growers need to focus on maximiz­ing yields—taking full advantage of higher grain prices—while protect­ing their fertilizer investment to make sure the nutrients are used most efficiently for top crop perfor­mance.

When it comes to corn, wheat and forages, nitrogen is the nutrient we need to be most concerned about protecting. Nitrogen impacts nearly every major process in the plant and is a large driver of yield. Without nitrogen, nothing happens. It doesn’t matter if you’ve got all the phosphorus and potash in the world. And the greater the yield, the greater the crop’s nitrogen needs.

Unfortunately, the potential for nitrogen loss is huge. As soon as we put a nitrogen product on a field, it’s bombarded by many different environmental factors that are trying to break it down into forms that can be lost either to the air or through the water. Under certain conditions, we can lose 30% to 40% or more of our applied nitrogen to leaching, denitrification and vola­tilization. Just do that math against the price of your fertilizer, and you can figure out pretty quickly just how important it is to protect that investment.

And you can’t mitigate the problem by simply using more nitrogen. The reality is, if you’ve got conditions causing loss, putting on more nitrogen just means you have that much more to lose. We really have to do something to stop the processes.

That’s where nitrogen stabilizers can help. To explain how stabilizers work, let me first explain how these losses occur. Through a process called nitrification, the ammonium in nitrogen fertilizers is converted to nitrite in the soil and then further oxidized to nitrate. Once in nitrate form, the nitrogen is subject to loss because it moves freely through­out the soil with moisture and can leach below the root zone. Nitrate is also susceptible to denitrification, a biological process that converts nitrate to gas that is lost to the atmosphere. This can often happen in waterlogged soils.

When using dry nitrogen, namely urea, volatilization is the issue we’re usually dealing with. This process has several steps. First, an enzyme called “urease” in the soil and organic residue convert urea to an unstable form, which can quickly change to ammonia and carbon dioxide. If you lay urea on top of the ground and do not incorporate it with tillage or a good rain, the nitrogen can volatilize right into the air. We want to stop the urease and slow that process down as much as possible until the product can be incorporated into the soil.

Depending on the weather, MFA’s own N-Guard stabilizer can protect nitrogen from volatilization for about 10 days to two weeks, which hopefully gives us time to get a good incorporating rain. N-Guard is applied to urea fertilizer when it’s blended at your MFA location.

Many locations also offer SuperU, a urea-based granule with the sta­bilizer built-in when it’s manufac­tured. SuperU has additional tech­nology that protects against losses both above and below ground, keeping the nitrogen in its ammoni­um form as long as possible.

We do a lot of things in agricul­ture because we can put a bottom line to it, and stabilizing your nitro­gen is one of those practices. MFA, our suppliers and universities have all done studies with these products and have shown there is consistent­ly a positive economic return on investing in nitrogen stabilizers. Not only does it protect the farmer’s fer­tilizer dollar, but it also makes sure the nutrition is there to boost yields.

At the same time, using nitrogen stabilizers is simply good steward­ship of the land. Anything we can do to keep these fertilizer products stable until the crops need it is not only a benefit to our grower but also a benefit to the environment.

Learn more about Nitrogen Stabilization: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FATyOpduHJ8

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Disappearing dirt can erode profitability

When it rains, it pours—quickly. That’s how precipitation patterns have been developing over the past several years in MFA’s trade territo­ry. We seem to get more brief, large rain events than the long, soaking rains farmers prefer. And that per­ception is backed by data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which has weather stations throughout Missouri.

Between 1895-2019, the state’s average number of rainfall events over 3 inches was 17.2 days. From the period of 2008 to 2019, nine years were above the historical annual average. Since NOAA began keeping records in 1895, the five highest years had a multitude of days with rainfall events over 3 inches, four of which were record­ed during the last 12 years. In fact, 2008 was the highest year of pre­cipitation ever recorded in Missouri with 50 days that had 3-plus inches of rain.

As producers strive to make a profit on every acre, they may try to farm as close as possible to creeks and rivers or remove trees and vegetation along the banks to gain more crop ground. The problem with these practices is that remov­ing permanent vegetation in these riparian corridors also removes stability of the soil, increasing the chance of erosion because the banks are not armored and protect­ed by deep-rooted vegetation.

Most years we do not realize that banks of rivers, streams and creeks are slowly widening and our field edges are gradually disappear­ing into the flow of water. When short-duration, flash-flooding events wash away several feet of field edges with each storm, it becomes obvious. However, that erosion has been happening for a while with every rain event, just at smaller, unnoticeable amounts.

It is hard to put a value on this lost acreage, but it’s safe to say that none of us would like the loss of production that typically those fertile river bottoms provide. How much production goes down the river each year? How many bales or bushels do you lose because the streambanks keep eroding?

Fortunately, there are several ways producers can slow or stop bank-side erosion. It might be as simple as adopting no-till practices or incorporating a cover crop so there are growing roots all year. It may mean a change in grazing management to increase residual forage heights, which, in turn, will increase root mass.

Most times though, curbing erosion along rivers, streams and creeks usually includes creating a natural buffer extending away from the bank. In some less-severe situ­ations, you can do this by farming farther away from the water’s edge and allowing Mother Nature to reclaim this land by herself. You can also speed up the process by planting trees and shrubs to create that buffer. Typically, a 50-foot buffer is a minimum to create good riparian habitat that will slow down and stop the erosion but, in some cases, it may need to be wider.

In more severe cases, after that buffer has been established, heavy equipment may be needed to place large rocks along the riverbank or divert the stream channel to slow the erosion until the riparian buffer can become established. Each situa­tion is different and can be complex.

There are professionals in both private and public sectors across the state who are very knowledgeable on how to protect these riparian areas and know what it will require to slow down and stop the erosion. MFA has two conservation special­ists, Adam Jones and myself, who can assist producers with stream­bank erosion issues. Also, the Natu­ral Resources Conservation Service, Department of Natural Resources and Missouri Department of Con­servation have staff who can assist producers. These organizations typically have financial assistance available to help with some of the costs of establishing their recom­mended solutions to widen riparian corridors.

Often, we think about the short-term effects of our current manage­ment decisions, but when it comes to streambank stabilization, we have to think long term. If you were to do nothing about the erosion occurring along the rivers, streams and creeks on your land, just imagine what would it would look like when your kids or grandkids take over your operation. Now, take action to improve that future.

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Feed forages a balanced diet

It’s the time of year when the “new” in new year really shows— newborn calves, blooming redbuds and fresh growth of green grass. Sure, we’ll keep some hay out until the cattle refuse it, but we can see light at the end of that tunnel we call winter. Now is the time to plan fertilizer applications so your herd will be rolling in grass this year.

I like to fertilize hay fields some­where in the last half of March or early April. For pasture ground, I think a bit differently. The good Lord gives us a bunch of grass in April and early May, so I like to hold off on fertilizing pastures until later in those months.

Chances are, you eat a fairly balanced diet. If you’re like me that might be meat, taters and a bit of dessert, washed down with a cup of good coffee or glass of tea. Your grass will certainly respond better with a balanced diet, too. Feeding forages with the right blend of plant nutrients results in palatable, nu­tritious feed for our livestock—and plenty of it! Think N, P, K and S.

Nitrogen (N) is that cup of coffee. It provides tremendous energy for the plant and helps build protein. Phosphorus (P) is the potatoes. Phosphorus is responsible for de­veloping and growing a good root system that can find water and nu­trients. Potassium (K) is the meat in the diet. Without ample potassium, forages can’t conserve water and may lose the ability to stand. Sulfur (S) is the dessert. This element just makes everything better. The major role of sulfur is building amino acids and proteins.

When you properly fertilize, you set your forages up for success. You can make that investment even more effective by controlling weeds in your hay fields and pastures. Adding herbicides such as DuraCor or GrazonNext HL to your fertil­izer application removes the weed competition, allowing all the plant nutrients and soil moisture to feed the forages that feed the cows.

My herbicide of choice is DuraCor. It’s stronger, has great residual activity and kills more weeds. This will help control many of the sum­mer annuals that steal water and fertilizer from your forages. Serious reduction in ragweed, nettle, thistle, cocklebur, perilla mint, buckhorn plantain, pigweed and many other undesirable plants allows for an abundance of good, clean grass.

An efficient and effective way to provide both nutrition and weed control to forages is through dry fertilizer impregnation (DFI). This process applies a concentrated herbicide solution on dry fertilizer during the blending process. The practice has steadily been gaining adoption throughout the state and has proven to be an effective way to pair fertility and weed control. The real advantage of this system is the herbicide’s residual control, which suppresses especially small or unemerged weeds. By allowing fertility and weed control to be applied simultaneously, DFI can be a tremendous cost and time savings during a busy time of year for many of MFA’s diversified growers.

MFA has jumped on the opportu­nity to provide customers with DFI services through several locations across our region. For availability, check with your local MFA facility.

Do keep in mind that impreg­nated fertilizer is designed to combat broadleaf weeds, not brush. Buckbrush, blackberries and tree sprouts are not well controlled with impregnated fertilizer. Also, please understand that impregnated fertil­izer works best to stop weeds that haven’t emerged. If you have lots of emerged weeds, spraying may be the better choice.

Producers should work with their key account manager and location employees to determine exactly what fertilizer blend and herbicides to apply. Ideally, those recommen­dations are based on a soil test and realistic yield goals for the upcom­ing growing season.

Many MFA locations have SuperU available. This premium nitrogen source is protected from all three forms of nitrogen loss—leaching, denitrification and volatility. The wet spring weather we have expe­rienced the past two or three years really takes a toll on nitrogen if it’s not protected. Chances of volatility increase as the temperature rises. You’ll sleep better at night if you use SuperU. I highly recommend it.

Well-fed, weed-free fields fare much better through hot, dry months. They are able to conserve water and continue producing quality feed far longer when the going gets tough. Cattle producers get paid on pounds of beef. Produc­ing more grass—and higher-quality grass—will lead to more pounds of beef per acre, per year.

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