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Field day highlights new research, production practices

Slideshow: Beck’s Ohio research farm shows off aerial innovations, fast planting techniques and more.

Farmers got a look at agricultural advancements overhead, underground and in between during the recent field show at Beck’s Ohio research farm near London, Ohio. In addition to offering a look at Beck’s lineup of corn hybrids and soybean varieties, the show reviewed research on equipment and production practices conducted at the farm by researchers from Beck’s Hybrids. Complete details on the company's research is available online, but here are a few highlights from the Ohio show:

Fast planting

The brief, late planting windows this past spring have increased farmers’ interest in high-speed planting, noted Tyler Schindel, Beck’s practical farm research operator. “We had weather backed up against us, and we had time backed up against us.” To test the performance of high-speed planting equipment, Beck’s researchers set up comparison plots on the Ohio research farm, then evaluated seed singulation and seed spacing. They planted using standard seed tubes at 5 mph, and with SpeedTubes from Precision Planting at 5, 7.5, 10 and 12.5 mph.

Although planter sensors indicated less accuracy in seed placement at higher speeds, that wasn’t evident in the field, indicating the difference might be in the sensor’s ability to record data at higher speeds, explained Jared Chester, Beck’s practical farm research location lead.

“There really wasn’t much difference to the naked eye. We had to ground-truth it,” he noted. That meant sending interns down every row to measure plant spacing. Those measurements showed the metered SpeedTube did improve spacing compared to the standard drop tube, and the SpeedTube performed well at all tested speeds, Chester added. “There’s very little difference between 5 mph and 12 mph.”

Another aspect of high-speed planting they studied was the performance of spiked closing wheels. “What we were concerned about was some of these spiked wheels turning into tillage tools,” Chester said. In their tests, done on fit, conventionally tilled ground, they found that was not a problem.

The high-speed planting tests also looked at the applied downforce required at various speeds. Faster speeds resulted in more planter bounce, requiring more applied downforce, Chester explained. The planter acts a little like a boat on the water, rising up off the surface as speed increases. “The trend is, the faster you go, the more downforce you need.”

Jason Gahimer, Beck’s practical farm research operations manager, emphasized the need for automatic down pressure adjustments on row units to get accurate seed depths at higher planting speeds. “Hydraulic downforce is a must with high-speed planting,” he explained.

Foliar timing

The effectiveness of foliar fungicides on corn can vary depending on when they’re applied, according to tests done by Beck’s. Schindel explained that the goal is to get crops to take in the fungicide, so slower evaporation is better. Tests done in multiple states showed an advantage to applying fungicide in the morning when dew is still on the leaves, temperatures are cooler and relative humidity is higher. Results vary depending on disease pressure and other factors; but if a farmer is going to spend money on a fungicide, it makes sense to apply it in the morning when conditions are better, said Schindel. “We’ve seen a 7-bushel gain by spraying only in the morning.”

Drone spraying

If a farmer finds a sprayer skip or persistent weed patch late in the season, going after it with a ground-based sprayer could cause too much crop damage, and dispatching a helicopter or airplane to spray wouldn’t be practical for small spots. For situations like this, drone sprayers might be a solution, according to Jim Love, light robotics manager for Beck’s.

He demonstrated a drone sprayer developed by Hylio at Beck’s recent Ohio Field Show. Currently, it is the only one in use in the United States. However, Hylio spray drones are already being used in South America, where there are fewer regulations restricting drone use, he said. The drones work well in irregularly shaped fields and hilly terrain.

Drones can carry about 4 gallons of spray solution and can run for about 15 minutes at a time, spraying at a rate of 1 gallon per acre. They are computer-driven and follow a spray pattern that is mapped out on the computer. In some cases, farmers are using several drones at once, with crews standing by to refill them with spray solution as they finish a load. “It’s totally scalable,” Love noted.

Love added he expects to see farmers sending out scout drones to identify weeds or other problems, and then sending out spray drones to spot-treat fields. “Where we see this thing fitting in is cleaning up spots,” he said. Drones may also be helpful for spraying when fields are not dry enough for ground traffic, he added.

Weather-ready

Luke Schulte, Beck’s field agronomist, told farmers to prepare for more challenges with weather in the years to come. “I think some of what you’re going to hear is going to be hard to accept,” he warned. Ohio’s annual precipitation has been trending upward, but what’s more concerning is an increase in extreme precipitation events, he explained. Frost-free dates are also coming later in the fall.

The increase in heavy rains can cause more soil movement and topsoil degradation, while soil aggregate stability declines. Soil oxygen levels are also reduced, inhibiting activity of microorganisms in the soil.

Increasing water infiltration and soil water-holding capacity are keys to navigating the expected weather extremes, said Schulte. He suggested boosting soil calcium levels: “I like to see a minimum of 70% base saturation of calcium.” If you’re applying lime to adjust pH, pay attention to the mineral composition of the lime you apply and choose lime with high calcium and low magnesium, he advised. Gypsum is another option for increasing soil calcium when pH adjustments aren’t needed.

Farmers can also improve water infiltration and holding capacity by increasing the number of months each year with an actively growing crop, added Schulte. He advocated minimizing tillage, using manure to add soil organic carbon and nurturing mycorrhizae, which can act as extensions for crop roots. Humic solutions can also complement a sound fertility program, providing a very stable carbon source in the soil, he said.

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