North Dakota farmer uses diversification, and the right mix of inputs, to battle the elements.
How do you make a profit in today’s wildly fluctuating weather and markets? One place to look is North Dakota where weather is almost an annual fight.
“Up here in the prairie pothole region of central North Dakota we’re a week away from a drought and a week away from a flood,” says Bryan Kenner, explaining what it’s like farming on his highly variable soils near Maddock. The region receives only around 20 inches of rain annually, half of what typically falls in Indiana and Ohio.
And, then there’s the short growing season. “We plant 82- to 86-day corn and group 0.0 to 0.5 soybeans,” says Kenner. “We can get a freeze up here in late May, and in the fall we’re always waiting for a frost.” In 2004 that frost came on August 20 when the thermometer dropped to 25 degrees. “We didn’t harvest corn or soybeans that year,” he recalls.
LESSONS TO BE LEARNED
Fortunately, that year (2004) was an exception. Kenner typically averages yields of 30 to 50 bushels per acre for soybeans and 150 to 170 bushels per acre corn, and has built a successful farm operation. There are lessons to be learned from how he does it.
First, he’s diversified. He grows six different crops for market, with some for both the commercial market and for seed. He’s a dealer for two corn and soybean seed companies, and he also produces and sells wheat, barley, field pea and dry bean (pinto and black bean) seed to customers.
Second, Kenner isn’t afraid to spend money to make money. “He’s willing to invest in his crop with the expectation of getting a return of his inputs,” observes Henry Steinberger, area BASF Innovation Specialist. Steinberger adds that Kenner almost always tests products before using, and has the technology to measure results.
For the 2019 crop year, Kenner’s on-farm testing includes two side-by-side field trials recommended by Steinberger.
Wheat flag leaf fungicide application: One trial is comparing a 7 ounce/acre application of Nexicor Xemium fungicide in spring wheat at flag leaf time1--with wheat receiving no flag leaf fungicide application. The plot is an 80-acre field with 40 acres in each treatment. Both plots will be sprayed at herbicide application time (three-leaf stage) with 2 ounces/acre of Priaxor fungicide, and again at full heading with 13.5 ounces/acre of Caramba fungicide.
Spraying a fungicide at flag leaf is new for Kenner. He typically applies just two fungicide applications; one at herbicide application and another at full heading for scab control.
“Only around 3% of the wheat acres in this area get a flag leaf application,” notes Steinberger. He adds that this leaves a critical window when wheat isn’t protected from diseases.
Four diseases are of primary concern at flag leaf, says Steinberger, tan spot, leaf and stem rust, Septoria and occasionally stripe rust. He notes that North Dakota State University research strongly indicates the importance of applying a fungicide in spring wheat for control of these diseases in North Dakota at flag leaf.
In addition to fungal disease control, Steinberger points out that Nexicor also provides Plant Health benefits to wheat plants. Those benefits include nitrogen assimilation, increased photosynthesis and stress tolerance, which can result in healthier leaves and stems. And, a cleaner flag leaf will help boost yields and grain quality.
Soybean R2 fungicide application: Kenner’s second field trial compares soybeans sprayed at R2 with Endura fungicide to soybeans not sprayed at R2. “Endura is excellent for protecting against white mold,” notes Steinberger, “which
is the biggest soybean fungal disease problem in the area.”
The R2 growth stage (where one of the two uppermost stems on the main soybean plant stem has an open flower) is the optimum time for controlling white mold, according to North Dakota State University Extension, noting that early infections at initial flowering are the most yield limiting.
Kenner is growing six crops this year: corn, soybeans, hard red spring wheat, malting barley, identity preserved field peas and dry beans (pinto, black beans). He grows some, such as corn and soybeans, for direct market, some on contract and some for his BK Seeds business. Corn and soybeans make up roughly one-third of his annual crop acreage.
Soybean production has seen a big increase in Kenner’s area in recent years. “I’d say the typical farmer has 30% of his or her acres in soybeans,” explains Steinberger, “with quite a few growing soybeans on soybeans.”
Kenner maintains flexibility. “Our soybean market has been pretty ugly up here, so we cut soybean acreage back a bit and are growing 200 acres of field peas on contract and another 300 acres for seed.”
“That’s a lot of what we do on our farm,” Kenner explains. “If we’re growing something for market we’ll also grow a percentage of our acres for seed for ourselves and for our seed customers. It’s been a value-added business that’s turned into a pretty good business for us.”
As for field peas, “it’s a growing market fueled by consumers looking for a non-soy, non-GMO protein source for protein shakes and even for high-end dog food,” notes Kenner. “In the past field peas were grown mostly for livestock feed and for export.”
In addition to adding field peas, Kenner also increased spring wheat acreage for seed production this year. “Growing seed wheat has become a big part of our business and so we’re doing a lot more seed production,” he says. “That’s taken a few acres from some of our crops.”
This year he’s also harvesting some of his malting barley and dry bean acreage for seed. Kenner outsources seed cleaning, but has all the seed treating and loading facilities needed for his seed business. Certification is done by the state. Virtually all seed sales are in bulk.
A side benefit of growing six crops has been better weed control across the farm. “Growing wheat, with its different growing season and herbicides (from corn and soybean herbicides), really helps in our fight against resistant weeds,” says Kenner.
He runs a three- to four- to five-year crop rotation (depending on each field’s soils). Rotating crops makes it easier to rotate modes of action, a key in fighting weed resistance. “Some of the specialty crops we grow can be a pain in the rear,” says Kenner, “but they give us some options for markets, and also give us more weed control options.”
He uses herbicides from different companies, but says BASF has the best portfolio of dry bean herbicides that works for him. For dry beans, he uses Prowl H2O (Group 3), Varisto (Group 6), Basagran 5L (Group 6) in season and Sharpen (Group 14) as a desiccate.
“Glyphosate-resistant kochia is a big issue for us,” notes Kenner, adding that it and other resistant weeds have changed the way he farms and the products he uses. For example, for corn Kenner used to put down a residual and applied glyphosate for burndown. With glyphosate resistance, he’s switched to using Armezon PRO herbicide. “It’s worked well as our weed spectrum has changed giving us good burndown and a residual on one pass,” he notes.
In soybeans, Kenner uses a two mode-of-action program that begins with a pre-emergent herbicide application, planting dicamba and glyphosate-tolerant soybeans, and then post spraying Engenia herbicide.
SOIL CHALLENGESKenner’s highly variable soils are a challenge. “When you look at my soil maps, it looks like one of my kids was coloring them--there are lines everywhere. I’ve got quarter sections with eight to 10 soil types.” That variability forces Kenner to manage his farm on almost a field-by-field basis.
Tillage: “Because of our varying soils, I’m anywhere from light tillage to vertical tillage to no-till across my farm,” says Kenner. “We use no-till or very minimum till on the lighter soils and spot tillage on the heavier soils.”
Fertilizer: “We variable-rate apply fertilizer on corn, soybeans and wheat. Except for liquid starter on corn, we use a dry fertilizer program applying with our variable-rate spreader.” Kenner’s soils are naturally high in potassium. “We rarely have to put potash fertilizer on,” he notes. “Phosphate is our yield-limiting nutrient. We apply zinc to corn and dry bean acres. Otherwise, micronutrients aren’t much of an issue for us.”
To learn more about the innovative practices these farmers use, check out their details on www.dtn.com/innovations.
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