Taking the guesswork out of crop management

SMART PROJECT MAKES ADVANCES

with a barrage of input options and management choices, farmers have to carefully weigh the costs and benefits of any given input or practice. With so many uncontrollable variables like soil type and weather, these decisions can often feel like a guessing game.

Fortunately, Dr. David Hooker from the University of Guelph, Ridgetown Campus and his team are making many advancements in their work towards finding the right  balance between inputs for high yielding, high return crops. The Strategic Management Adding Revenue Today (SMART) Project examines the impact of crop management decisions on soil structure, crop quality, yield and net returns in wheat and soybeans. Also involved in this research is graduate student Jonathan Brinkman and OMAFRA Specialists Peter Johnson and Horst Bohner.

revealing results in wheat management
Results from Hooker’s research on fungicides are especially enlightening for wheat farmers on the hunt for both quantity and quality. “Fungicides applied at weed control timing increased yield, even though disease levels were relatively low,” explains Hooker. His research revealed that yield increased with a fungicide application at either weed control timing, heading, or at flowering. “However,” Hooker explains that “the largest increases were found at flowering in certain environments and within genetics where leaf diseases were controlled and fusarium head blight was suppressed.”

Findings from the nitrogen portion of the SMART project show that the response to nitrogen was higher than expected at most wheat plot locations, even in plots where yield potential was low to moderate. “This underlines the need for more precise nitrogen recommendations in wheat,” elaborates Hooker.

One interesting finding from this research is the interaction between fungicide and fertilizer in winter wheat. Hooker studied the combination of fungicide applications at flowering and high nitrogen rates (higher than currently recommended). He explains that, “this combination resulted in yield increases of 30 bushels per acre more than the plots which received the normal recommended nitrogen rates and no fungicide application at flowering.   Results were amazingly similar on Peter Johnson’s field-scale strip locations.”

reducing stress on soybeans is key
Outcomes from the project’s soybean research are timely as more farmers are questioning their tillage practices. “Vertical tillage ahead of a no-till drill or planter improved soybean appearance in June and July in all fields studied,” says Hooker. However, he cautions that “yield response varied from zero to four bushels per acre, with most responses less than two bushels per acre.” These results were surprising to the research team as they expected higher yield responses based on the visual difference in June and July.

Another significant finding coming out of this research may impact planting decisions for many farmers. “We found that planting your soybean crop at the end of May resulted in six bushel per acre yield penalty compared to planting within the first two weeks of May,” says Hooker. Considering that the provincial yield average for soybeans is 43 bushels per acre, planting mistakes could account for a 14 percent yield penalty, something all farmers want to avoid.

On the front of pest control, the research team found that the combination of the CruiserMaxx seed treatments and Hi-Stick inoculants increased yields by at least three bushels per acre on average. The yield increase was even more pronounced – up to five bushels per acre – in fields with aphid infestations at the flowering or beginning pod fill stage (Reproductive Stages 2 and 3). Plots with CruiserMaxx seed treatments demonstrated a reduction in the reliance on broad-spectrum foliar insecticide sprays during early reproductive stages with lower aphid populations.

For farmers with heavy aphid pressure, Hooker’s research also found that applying a fungicide-insecticide tankmix of Quadris and Matador increased yields by up to five bushels per acre, but in Bohner’s field-scale trials, the response of this tankmix depended on the field. 

Interesting results were also found regarding fertilizer use. Surprisingly, “fertilizer did not increase yield in medium to high testing soils, in spite of improvement in plant appearance in June and July,” says Hooker.

The ultimate finding of the soybean portion of the SMART project is the association between yield and stress. “Yields were increased when an observed stress was managed,” says Hooker, However, the project also shows that “if stress is absent (nutrient, disease, insect or soil issues) then the effect of additional inputs on soybean performance is minimal.”

a bright future
The SMART project is scheduled to complete one more year of trials. “The 2010 growing season will see wheat tested on another four intensive locations and 15 field-scale locations, and for soybeans, two intensive locations and 12 to 15 field scale locations,” says Hooker.

Using data from these trials, Hooker and his team expect to be able to make clearer recommendations on inputs for soybeans and wheat, including the development of a wheat nitrogen calculator.

Look for new information on the agronomic and economic impact of
inputs on soybeans and wheat in the upcoming years.   This project is funded with thanks mainly through: AAC CanAdvance, Grain Farmers of Ontario, Bayer CropScience, Syngenta Crop Protecion, BASF, John Deere, several seed companies, OMAFRA, and University of Guelph Ridgetown Campus.