Kris Ehler is a self-described bean dork. Everything about the fickle crop fascinates the Thomasboro, Illinois, farmer and certified crop agronomist.
While some farmers might brag about buying a big high-clearance sprayer, Ehler couldn’t be more excited about the fact that he purchased a small plot sprayer this year that is helping fine-tune on-farm trials.
He’s particularly curious about testing foliar and growth regulator products. The sprayer gives him an opportunity to do that on a manageable scale and in a timely fashion. While he’s a big supporter of all kinds of data, university trials, for example, don’t drill down on some of the more obscure product offerings. And, industry data tends to support the product being sold.
“It’s a very busy market. It seems like everyone has something,” Ehler says. “We’ve aligned ourselves with a few suppliers that we’ve had some success with. There’s no way I can test every product, but I want to see if I can get a handle on application timing and how the plant responds in my fields.”
“Unfortunately, I think many tests get done when they are most convenient and not always at the best time for the success of the application. So, we tend to see a lot of data that says there was ‘no response’.”
Data is so easily manipulated that Ehler just feels better doing his own tests. “The red flags go up for me when the claims for a product are all positive, and I can’t lose. You better bet I’m going to test that product before I use it more broadly.”
Evaluate Each Year. Learning from when things go different than planned goes with the testing landscape, as well.
For example, the current movement is to lower plant populations. Armed with the new sprayer, Ehler set out this year to manage a higher plant population more precisely.
“There are some products being advertised to keep internode lengths stacked up and not let the plant get too tall--as soybeans like to do when planted in a competitive environment,” he says. Currently, there are five groups of plant hormones that are most commonly discussed for use in soybeans: auxins, gibberellins, cytokinins, abscisic acid (ABA) and ethylene. Each of these hormones works together to coordinate the growth and development of cells, but different groups are involved in certain processes. For example, gibberellins cause stem elongation and flowering, and cytokinins stimulate cell division and induce bud formation.
Instead of shortening plants as he’d hoped, the growth-regulating hormones Ehler tested caused the soybean plants to branch more at an early growth stage, despite the high population environment.
It’s all about manipulating the plant. In coming years, Ehler expects to see high-yield soybean-production tactics cross over from other crops such as cotton and vegetables, where they’ve learned how to read the season and address it with controls.
Ehler calls it the “X factor” that influences the way growers need to interpret the needs of plants rather than the continued use of one consistent management strategy.
For example, this year it was seed quality, Ehler notes. “Everyone was talking about going lower with populations, but the 2017 crop matured rapidly and never developed a good seed coat.”
Most of the soybean seed crop is treated and goes through a mechanical process. “So, we lost even more seed quality there. Even though a lot might have been tagged 90% germ, we were looking at more like 80 to 85% germ last year,” he says.
“That’s not a huge problem if you’re still planting 140,000 to 120,000 seeds per acre, but those who wanted to go really low--say 90,000--needed to consider it and especially needed to be evenly spaced. That’s something a study or report isn’t going to tell you,” he says.
Harvest is the perfect time to pull a few plants and look for clues as to what to expect.
“The plant will tell you the story about what happened this season. The internodes may be stacked up because it was hot coming out of the gate in May, but as we got rains as they entered the reproductive stage, we started to see elongation, and the plants started to get just a little bit lazy,” he says. “We had a lot of early hints that lodging could be a problem this year.
“High-yield corn growers will say: ‘Never let your plants have a bad day.’ For soybeans, that saying needs to be: ‘Every day is a new day’,” Ehler says.
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