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Conservation in the 2018 Farm Bill

The long-awaited 2018 Farm Bill was finally passed late last year and contains language dictating federal farm policy for at least the next five years. Though not a major funding part of the bill, the conservation sections play a significant role in resource conservation and wildlife habitat placement on agriculture lands. These programs fund many practices, from short-term conserva­tion such as annual cover cropping for soil health to perpetual wetland easements that protect fish and wild­life habitat permanently.

Each of the four main programs persist in the new legislation though funding levels have shifted slightly.

Conservation Reserve Program

CRP, acreage caps and soil rental rates typically steal the show in any conservation-related discussion over the farm bill, and 2018 was no exception. Moving forward, there will be a few changes to CRP. The acreage cap will grow from a current 24 million acres to 27 million by 2023, with at least 30% of those acres being enrolled in one of the continuous CRP practices. These typically target high-value habitat or priority concerns such as buffer strips, waterways, etc. Rental rates and signup incentive payments have also been decreased for any new CRP contracts. Under a general signup, the soil rental rate will now be no more than 85% of the county average, with continuous signups being no more than 90%.

It’s yet to be determined if these changes will impact recent increased demand for CRP. Language regard­ing timing for signups for CRP has been fairly vague from USDA. It has been hinted that continuous signups may start first, followed by a general signup this winter. One other im­portant note is that a general signup is mandated to be held at least yearly, and with the number of acres com­ing out increasing, there will likely be acres available in the near future.

Conservation Stewardship Program

Originally rumored to be terminat­ed in the new farm bill, CSP will persist. However, funding will be cut for the program slowly over time. Contract extensions will be granted, and there may be opportunities for additional signups moving forward. The first signup for CSP under the 2018 legislation appeared in mid- April with a May 10, 2019, dead­line. This signup timing has been consistent over the past few years, and as long as funding will allow, signups will likely continue to roll out at this timeframe. The main ad­justment that may affect the program is funding levels will now be based on an annual dollar allocation versus annual acreage caps.

Environmental Quality Incentives Program

Where CSP got a trim in the new farm bill, EQIP picked up some slack with an increase of more than $1 billion over the term of the legislation. Most of the program’s structure will remain the same as the 2014 version, with some flexibility on practice payments. The funding pool that did increase was wildlife provisions, expanding from a total of 5% to 10%. If you were considering an EQIP application to implement wildlife habitat in your operation, now could be great time to apply.

Keep in mind there are multiple benefits to most practices. For exam­ple, doing some brush management on field edges is certainly beneficial to wildlife but can also increase yields due to increased water, sun­light and nutrient availability.

Agricultural Conservation Easement Program

The main conservation title in ACEP is Wetland Reserve Easements (WRE), formerly known as WRP easements. Funding for easements as a whole increased to $450 million a year. For MFA trade territory, this should mean new easements available to those interested in WRE through the term of the 2018 bill.

Whatever conservation goals you have moving forward, there’s a good amount of support in this farm bill. The theme under conservation seems to be water quality. Some em­bedded titles within CRP and others will highlight new and existing programs geared toward managing runoff from agricultural lands.

If you are interested in any of these programs, keep in touch with your local USDA Service Center as the 2018 Farm Bill gets implement­ed. Remember that MFA is ready to assist you with the goods and ser­vices needed to place conservation on the landscape.

Adam Jones joined MFA as natu­ral resource conservation specialist in January 2019 after more than 10 years with the Missouri Department of Conservation, most recently as a wildlife management biologist. Adam grew up on a small livestock and row-crop farm in Lewis County, Mo., before earning a degree in fisheries and wildlife at the University of Missouri. A lifelong outdoorsman, he now enjoys hunting and camping with his wife, Heather, and their three children.

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Farming the competitive edge


When Wyatt Harris was 17 years old, he sold the new truck he’d purchased with his savings the year before to rent 350 acres of land from a retiring neighbor.

“That got me into a bit of trouble with my parents,” Harris admitted. “I grew up around farming. At 15, I could run a 24- row planter, but my uncle farms the homestead. If I wanted to farm, I knew I was going to have to do it myself.”

Now 30, he grows roughly 4,000 acres of corn, soybeans and wheat near Hepler, Kan., in addition to custom farming. Since the beginning, Harris saw the value in adopting progressive technol­ogies and management practices, though he may not have had the top-of-the-line equipment. At 21, he began soil sampling and tracking organic matter. Shortly thereafter, he started gath­ering yield data.

When he rents a new parcel of land, Harris said the ground is usually pretty rough. Some requires dirt work, brush removal and burndown applications. Land is usually cheaper in this shape, the young farmer said, and he doesn’t have to worry about people renting it out from under him.

“I wouldn’t be as far along as I am, though, if we weren’t look­ing at how to maximize the fertility of those fields,” Harris said.

He’s not afraid of the work. Mainly a no-till farmer, some of his reclaimed fields now average 170 bushels of corn per acre even in dry years.

“It all started with some farms that we opened up,” Harris said. “Parts were prairie meadow, and we removed fence rows. We’ve been yield mapping for several years. Seeing the yield difference in the ground with high organic matter that hasn’t eroded away after 100 years of being farmed is just night and day. Once you’ve farmed it to clay, you’ve farmed it to clay. Most guys don’t see that without yield mapping. We can grow the type of crops they do in Iowa and central Illinois on that native sod if it’s managed right.”

With the yield data Harris collected, he was able to develop yield-management zones for variable-rate phosphorus and po­tassium applications. In 2015, when MFA began running trials with the Adapt-N model, a software program that allows pro­ducers to create variable-rate nitrogen recommendations, Harris was the perfect candidate. Previously, he spread a flat rate of nitrogen. Now all of his corn acres get variable-rate applications based on yield goals, and N applications are split in season.

Harris has a high-clearance spreader truck that allows him to apply his own fertilizer and top-dress his fields.

“We’d been applying variable-rate P and K,” he said. “In corn, we also made new yield-management zones, trying to push the good spots a little harder and lighten up on the bad spots. I de­cided it was somewhat pointless to do that without being able to variable-rate our nitrogen, too.”

MFA Precision Sales Manager Eric Preston said Adapt-N provides a way to be as efficient as possible with both seed and fertilizer inputs in the poorer areas of the field and boost yield potential in the better sections.

“Our process has evolved over time,” Preston said. “In Wyatt’s fields, not only are we putting more nitrogen out there in those good areas, we’re also putting more plants out there to maxi­mize those better-yielding zones.”

To develop these yield zones, Preston prefers having at least two years’ worth of normalized yield data. With that information in hand, he can help producers create goals for the next year.

“We have 250-bushel and 90-bushel yield zones in the same field,” Harris said. “Adapt-N has changed everything because we’re actually managing our nitrogen. We’re pushing yield zones 100 bushels better than county average in some places. We wouldn’t still be doing it if it wasn’t working.”

For a long time, many growers thought of planting popula­tions and fertility applications separately, Preston said.

“You had guys who were variable-rate planting who weren’t using variable-rate nitrogen applications,” he added. “They were planting more but weren’t putting anything else out there for those plants to uptake, so they weren’t seeing a big increase. On the flip side, you had guys who were applying variable-rate nitrogen who weren’t putting any more seeds out there to take advantage of that nitrogen. By doing them together, it maximiz­es the return on both.”

It’s a system and a process, Harris said.

“You can’t have one without the other, and we plan a lot,” he said. “It definitely adds science to what we’re doing with late-sea­son nitrogen. It isn’t perfect, but it’s a lot better than the old way. It’s a very good educated guess now, versus just a guess.”

On their farm a little over 50 miles north near Parker, Kan., the Dunlop family also participated in the same Adapt-N trial four years ago. With 700 acres of corn enrolled in the trial, they also saw the efficiency benefits.

“In the past, when you put on anhydrous, you shot for 150 bushels an acre,” Chuck Dunlop said. “You wanted to apply enough nitrogen for that, and maybe you didn’t actually raise that much. There was probably a lot of waste there.”

When spring rains come, farmers in this area joke that it comes 10 inches at a time. Both flooding and drought can occur in the same season, and denitrification is definitely a potential issue.

“That’s why we side-dress,” Preston said. “Once that corn is planted, we’ll have about 10 days in May when it’s just warm and wet. That’s when we have the potential to lose whatever nitrogen is out there. After those 10 days, that’s when we apply our nitro­gen—after the corn dries up and is ready to take off. The most expensive nitrogen we put on is the nitrogen we lose.”

Like Harris, the Dunlops continued to use Adapt-N on all their acreage after the initial trial. The variable-rate nitrogen program brought some consistency across their farms.

“In the past, consistently our best yields were always on the river bottom ground,” Dunlop said. “Now, it’s getting more evened out. More of our upland is yielding a lot better. One of our routinely worst farms had the highest bean yield this year. Some of that was weather, but I think the fertility of those fields also plays a big part. We’re getting more consistent farm-wide.”

Also like Harris, the Dunlop family develops long-term goals for their operation and then takes incremental steps toward them. They’ve been gathering yield data since the ’90s and use it to factor removal rates into their fertility recommendations. The data helps them determine planting populations in addi­tion to creating yield zones and splitting nitrogen applications.

“These guys are probably some of the most progressive farm­ers when it comes to nitrogen application,” Preston said. “A lot of guys will do a split application, but they still apply most of their nitrogen up front. Here, they put a little bit on up front and a lot when they side-dress, which is the way it should be done.”

Their gradual, strategic approach is what helped the Dun­lops be so successful with this program, Preston added. They started by grid sampling and correcting the fields’ pH levels. Then, they followed variable-rate rec­ommendations for P and K. Now, they’ve moved into nitrogen and matching the seeding rates accordingly.

“I think that’s important for anybody,” Dunlop said. “In the past, any time we tried to jump in and make a major change across the entire operation, it didn’t work too well. You need the experience first.”

By working with MFA crop con­sultants and precision managers, some trial and error is mitigated.

“Most farmers only get about 30 to 40 plantings and harvests to figure out what works for their op­erations before they retire,” Preston said. “We see at least that many every year, in addition to countless pests, diseases and other factors that can impact the growing season. That knowledge of what we’ve seen work and what didn’t is part of the value MFA provides to our growers.”

The next steps for Dunlop Farms may be moving into no-till corn and retrofitting their planters with hydraulic downforce to ensure proper planting depth. Harris said he sees multi-variety planting in the cards on his farm.

When asked why using such technology on the farm is im­portant, Harris said the bottom line is the bottom line.

“I see it as the way of the future,” he continued. “If we’re going to stay out here and do what we’re doing, we’re going to have to adopt those practices. It’s just as well to do so early and get it figured out. I think it gives us a competitive edge and makes us more efficient, better farmers and better stewards.”

For more information on Adapt-N, contact your local MFA or AGChoice to connect with your nearest precision specialist.

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Fight weed resistance with overlapping residuals

Many of you may know that I grew up in eastern Colorado. It was a small farming town called Eads. I never dreamed I would live anywhere else. That area of the country is quite opposite, in terms of weather, from Missouri. In Eads, we always seemed to be in a drought (at least that’s what I remember). Here, we go from one extreme to another. I mention this because I’ve had the great opportunity to live in many places and have seen our agriculture community reach out to those in need. These past few months have once again proven why I love our agriculture community. People came together to help those affected by flood damage. They show up in times of trouble and don’t expect anything in return. I appreciate ev­eryone who has graciously donated goods and time to help those in need.

While we’ve had a trying spring, it’s time to focus on this growing season. We’ve talked about selecting the right nitrogen source and rate. We’ve talked about selecting the right adjuvant. Now, let’s talk about weed control.

Weed control is the hot topic at a lot of coffee shops. New traits will allow HPPD, dicamba and 2,4-D herbicides to be applied to soybeans. WOW. I bet we can treat them like the old Roundup Ready soybeans. WRONG. While that practice might work for a while, it’s not a good long-term plan.

Overlapping residuals is some­thing that we’ve discussed before. With the rapid adoption of the LibertyLink weed control system over the past couple of years, we have seen a decrease in the number of acres that are receiving overlap­ping residuals. On the other hand, in the Roundup Ready 2 Xtend system, we’ve seen the continued use of overlapping residuals. As we look to the future of the trait platform, most have tolerance to glufosinate. It’s even more important that we stew­ard these new technologies. We have been putting considerable selection pressure on the LibertyLink crops, and we need this system for future use. This should be an indication that we need to protect this trait.

You may have heard in the ag news that University of Illinois researchers identified a population of waterhemp in Illinois that is resistant to group 15 herbicides (Dual, Out­look, Zidua, Warrant). This class of herbicides has been doing the heavy lifting for many years. Waterhemp populations that are resistant to mul­tiple modes of action are becoming more common every year.

You may have also heard that a couple of companies have a new mode of action (MOA) in the pipe­line. This would be the first new MOA in several years. This is very exciting for a weed scientist. It will still be several years before we will see the new products placed with trial cooperators and even a few years after that before they are avail­able on the market, but it is exciting nonetheless.

In the near term, however, there is nothing new on the horizon. That’s all the more reason for us to focus on stewarding all of the technologies that we currently have. We must use good application methods to make sure we don’t run out of options.

As for the 2019 growing season, MFA will continue with our same protocol as last year when it comes to application of dicamba products XtendiMax, Engenia or FeXapan. MFA staff will evaluate sentinel plots weekly to determine soybean growth stages and potential cutoff dates for spraying dicamba in our different regions. Every Tuesday morning throughout the growing season, we will send out reports to all MFA employees and publish an updated map on our website to give a general outline of the soybean stages in the different regions. The map and other information will be available at

If you have any questions, please feel free to reach out to me or one of our MFA Agri Services, AGChoice or affiliate locations.

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Choosing the right adjuvant for the job

Anything that prevents a herbicide from reaching its target, deactivates a herbicide or reduces exposure to the target weed is a hur­dle to effective pest control. Often, these hurdles seem daunting. While matching applications to proper en­vironmental conditions is critical for highly effective weed control, there are tools we can use to overcome threats to herbicide performance— even in optimum circumstances. Among these are properly selected, high-quality adjuvants.

Adjuvants are often one of the least understood but most effective tools to enhance crop protection performance. Depending on the product, a properly selected adjuvant can prove invaluable to increasing the likelihood of plant uptake. Adjuvants condition water to prevent herbicide deactivation, reduce drift fines and make mixing and tank cleanout easier. The key to successful adjuvant use is knowing the right product for the job.

Adjuvants typically fall under three basic categories: activators, spray modifiers and utility products.


These include non-ionic surfactants (NIS) such as MFA’s Astute, crop oil concentrates (COC) such as MFA’s Relay, and methylated seed oils (MSO) such as MFA’s SoyPlus. NIS, often called “wetters” or “spreaders,” are designed to reduce surface ten­sion of a water droplet. This action causes a droplet to flatten out and spread across a leaf surface, increas­ing the surface area in contact with the leaf. NIS products contain ingre­dients such as organosilicones that have some penetrative properties, but typically oils (COC and MSO) are considered true penetrants. While oils provide less reduction in surface tension than NIS, they increase penetration through barriers such as waxy leaf cuticles.

Selecting the proper activator is a balance of increasing weed control without adversely affecting crop safety. For example, oils can add to weed control, especially in unfavor­able conditions, but can have nega­tive effects with certain herbicides.

More and more products such as Xpond, a high-surfactant oil con­centrate (HSOC), are being used be­cause of their combined effects as a spreader and oil. Lower oil use rates makes them safer on crops without sacrificing weed control.

Spray modifiers

These products vary in utility and include fertilizers, water condition­ers, humectants and deposition and retention aids (DRA). Fertilizers such as ammonium sulfate (AMS) are of­ten used as a water conditioner. AMS can neutralize hard water ions that deactivate herbicides such as glypho­sate but can also improve uptake of herbicides by introducing ammo­nium to the solution. Problems with use of ammonium-containing fertilizers include high volume re­quirements and incompatibility with newer dicamba formulations due to increased volatility. Low-use alter­natives are available. Some contain ammonium, such as Waypoint, and some don’t, such as Impetro II.

Humectants aid weed control by increasing a droplet’s drying time. Extending the time a herbicide remains in liquid form can improve uptake by weeds, increasing control. In MFA’s Crop Advantage lineup, humectants have been added to Impetro II and AMS Advantage.

DRAs are used to control drift and minimize droplet bounce to reduce off-target movement and leaf retention. Compatibility and consid­erations with tank-mix partners are important, so choose DRA products wisely. PowerShot and SoyPlus HD contain both penetrants and DRAs, and MFA’s Impetro products contain DRAs in addition to humectants and water conditioners.

Utility products

This broad category of adjuvants covers several products that mostly work to increase the ease of handling pesticides. Included in this group are defoamers, tank cleaners such as Evict and compatibility agents such as Convert that can prevent or even remedy certain tank-mix issues.

With such a wide array of func­tions and compatibility, adjuvant selection is challenging. To compli­cate matters further, adjuvants are not regulated like pesticides, and the market is full of untested, inferior products claiming to be of equal quality. For example, you would assume an NIS labeled 90/10 would contain 90 percent surfactant. In fact, the label only implies 90 per­cent active ingredient, which could be any number of things and make a typical rate ineffective.

The uncertainty in the market is why MFA developed its Crop Advan­tage line of adjuvants. We subject our products to third-party testing by the Council of Producers and Distributors of Agrotechnology to ensure the highest quality. Growers can be assured that products with a Crop Advantage label adhere to MFA values of honesty, integrity, account­ability, innovation, technology, cus­tomer partnering and stewardship. For more information, visit with your local MFA crop specialist.

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Make sure your N gets in

SuperU corn IMG 7025SuperU fertilizer makes sure this corn crop will receive the nitrogen it needs with protection against volitalization, dentrification and leaching.Where did fall 2018 go? Harvest dragged on and on. We had little to no movement of fall fertilizer, fall herbicide, and, for that matter, timely planted cover crops. It seems we say this every year, but this past fall will certainly be remembered— either for harvest at Christmas or lack of field work being done.

Now, however, it’s time to focus on the spring ahead. As I men­tioned, very little nitrogen has hit the ground. Yes, a few areas got a good run around the holidays, but, for the most part, we are at ground zero.

For many, anhydrous is the pre­ferred N source in MFA’s trade area. Its high percentage of nitrogen, ef­fectiveness and application methods make it a great fit. However, supply can be tight, which I think will hap­pen this spring.

Looking at N options for spring application, we have to be realistic. We do have other choices. Available nitrogen sources include urea, urea with N-Guard, urea with Instinct, SuperU, UAN and anhydrous. No matter which form you choose, nitrogen stabilizers are crucial to protect your plant food investment.

I’ve discussed urea before. If it is surface-applied, we must protect it with nBPT, the active ingredient that combats the urease enzyme and limits volatility. You read about this in last month’s article on our Train­ing Camp results. MFA’s nitrogen stabilizer N-Guard is an approved nBPT that is proven to be one of the best volatilization inhibitors on the market. Volatilization is the most common form of nitrogen loss with dry fertilizer products.

Now is also a good time to cover SuperU, a stabilized urea-based gran­ule that contains nBPT and dicyan­diamide (DCD). The nBPT provides above-ground protection, and DCD protects the nitrogen below ground.

Urea with Instinct nitrogen sta­bilizer also provides below-ground protection. The active ingredient in Instinct is encapsulated nitra­pyrin, an organic compound that slows down the soil bacteria that converts ammonium to nitrate, keeping nitrogen in the ammonium form longer. Instinct is essentially N-Serve for urea.

If UAN is your nitrogen source, it must be protected, too. UAN is 50 percent urea and 50 percent ammo­nium nitrate. While the ammonium nitrate isn’t volatile, the urea portion is, and they are both subject to below-ground losses. Agrotain Plus is the product we use in this situa­tion. It has nBPT and DCD that will protect the nitrogen from all three forms of nitrogen loss: volatilization, denitrification and nitrate leaching.

We often get questions about using N-Serve in spring applications of anhydrous. Is it needed in the spring? Research has shown that we can see a 7 percent advantage from fall-applied nitrogen with N-Serve and a 5 percent advantage when it’s applied in the spring. Another question that comes up is about how long the protection from N-Serve lasts. A rule of thumb is 90 days for fall applications. Days are counted from application until temperatures drop below 40 degrees. Then the counting starts again in the spring when soil temperatures warm above 40 degrees. Generally, with spring applications we can expect eight weeks of activity from an April 15 application, seven weeks from a May 1 application, and six weeks from a May 15 application.

While many of you prefer an­hydrous, yields with SuperU have shown to be equal to that of anhy­drous with N-Serve.

A pound of N is a pound of N, as long as it’s still available for the crop when it needs it. This spring, whether you’re applying and pro­tecting anhydrous, urea, Super U or UAN, visit with your local MFA Agri Services or AGChoice for the best option to use on your farm.

More from this March Today's Farmer Magazine Issue HERE .

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