Crop doc’s orders

ADJUST YOUR “CROP-STYLE” AND FATTEN YOUR BOTTOM LINE

a visit to the doctor generally comes with orders to cut-back and workout more. But soybean and wheat farmers who heed the crop doc’s advice could get heavier wagonloads this harvest and a fatter bank account.

By making simple changes to crop management routines, preliminary research results of the Strategic Management Adding Revenue Today (SMART) project are showing significant increases in yields and profits in both wheat and soybeans. The project began in the fall of 2007 and is overseen by Dr. David Hooker, a Field Crop Agronomist and Assistant Professor at the University of Guelph’s Ridgetown Campus. Hooker says his projects focus on the interactions between crop inputs and is being well received by farmers.

“Yields of both soybean and wheat will need to increase to keep pace with corn as a competitive enterprise,” said Hooker. “Projects like SMART will help to develop more comprehensive recommendations for more accurate decisions and higher profits.”  

Hooker says the projects were initiated following discussions about breaking the yield plateau in soybeans with Horst Bohner, Soybean Specialist with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food, and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA). Since yield increases were being observed in performance trials but not on the farm, Hooker said they realized current agronomic practices had to be the limiting factor. Since wheat was similarly affected, Hooker expanded the project outline to study both crops and brought in Peter Johnson, Cereal Specialist with OMAFRA.

wheat trial results
The most notable result from the SMART wheat trials is the response to higher applications of nitrogen. When combined with the use of fungicides, yields increased from 15 to 25 bushels per acre on average. Some of the most responsive varieties, however, achieved yield increases as high as 40 bushels per acre. To achieve similar results, Hooker recommends that farmers select varieties that are associated with high lodging resistance and increase their normal nitrogen application rate to 120 pounds per acre. He says this is especially important when wheat follows soybeans in the crop rotation (see page 12 for more information).

Additionally, Hooker recommends that wheat farmers start considering additional fungicides applications. Preliminary analysis showed that wheat varieties with high disease susceptibilities were the most responsive to fungicide applications and in some cases, were required in combination with increased nitrogen rates to achieve higher yields. Hooker says an application at heading can have a significant impact and an additional application at weed control timing is also worth considering.

Maintaining a crop rotation is generally well known to reduce some disease risks but trial research also showed that the inclusion of wheat in a crop rotation has significant benefits to yields in later crops. In 2009 and 2010, researchers noticed an increase of 30 bushels per acre in corn crops. Soybeans increased by as much as five bushels per acre when wheat was included.

soybean trial results
The results of the soybean trials highlighted the importance of planting early. The target planting date for early planting each year was always during the first week of May which resulted in a nine bushel per acre yield increase over soybeans that were planted later in May or in early June. Hooker recognizes Horst Bohner’s latest research suggests greater yield gains could be achieved by planting as early as late April where possible. However, he advises farmers that early planting is always highly dependent on soil condition and planting into soil that is fit should be their first concern.

Overall, trial results highlighted a considerable response to intensive inputs in soybeans, resulting in five to 10 bushel per acre yield increases. The combination of insecticide and inoculant seed treatment increased soybean yields from one to six bushels per acre overall. Farmers greatly benefit from seed insecticide treatments and would consistently earn a profit of $4 per acre across most fields, even at a cost of $11 per acre for treatment.

Hooker says the impact of soybean aphid infestations was significant in this trial, even though pest pressure was only high in one of the three research years. In cases of early soybean aphid infestation, plants that were treated with CruiserMaxx yielded five bushels per acre more. Additionally, foliar insecticides applied between the R2 and R3 stage were highly effective in controlling later soybean aphid infestations and failure to manage high insect pressures resulted in significant yield losses.

SMART?NEXT STEPS
The next generation of the SMART project — SMART II — was initiated last fall. It will continue to build on the findings of SMART I by focusing in on fungicide strategies and refining nitrogen rates in wheat trials, specifically investigating lodging resistance, the nitrogen use efficiencies of split applications and spring-applied potash. Soybean trials will study the yield potential of longer-than-full-season soybean varieties. It will be expanded to study not only early planting and foliar fungicide combinations, but also take new soil-applied fertilizers, fertilizer placement and corn stover management into consideration. 

Hooker says he expects even more interest in the second phase of the project from farmers than there was in the first. “Growers recognized the need and value of this research from day one,” he said. “This recognition is stronger now than ever with the successes of SMART I.”

Funding for SMART I was provided in part by Grain Farmers of Ontario and by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s Adaptation Programming and administered the Agricultural Adaptation Council. Funding for SMART II is provided in part by GFO and in part through Growing Forward, a federal-provincial-territorial initiative. The Agricultural Adaptation Council assists in the delivery of several Growing Forward Programs in Ontario. •