The rising use of precision ag tools is offering farmers more information about every aspect of their operations. In the last few years, Chris Diener, seed sales agronomist, Central Indiana Division, Nutrien Ag Solutions, has seen something interesting: “I think farmers are looking at growing degree units more, and we’re seeing guys looking at GDU for instance in central, Indiana.”
Why the change? Why the attention to the lifecycle of that corn crop? Diener chalks it up to a few factors.
Farmers are looking at their crop risk profile and working to maximize their yields. “I’ve seen more farmers planting later hybrids like 115- to 118-day maturities in the southern part of Indiana,” he says. “They’re looking at the probability of first frost, or hard freeze, and broadening their approach to GDUs can expand their choice of hybrids to plant.”
The Eastern Corn Belt has traditionally been more of a 105- to 110-day market, but Diener says his customers are more willing to take that risk of a longer maturity.
“If you’re looking to plant a 116-day maturity hybrid you are looking at needing close to 2,800 GDUs to reach black layer on that corn,” he says. With that longer maturity choice, he says those buyers must be confident they can get the crop in the ground by April 15, and he adds a lot of people do plant that early in his region.
In-field risk management
One benefit of mixing up maturities is the ability to also manage your harvest risk. The aim is to avoid having the entire crop mature at once, so a farmer can manage equipment and resource deployment in the fall. That big crop in the fall is often the farmer’s big paycheck for the season, and any tactic that a producer can deploy to maximize the final yield matters.
Diener explains that his customers aren’t going full bore with longer-season hybrids, in fact they’re mixing up those maturities more. “The strength is in that 108- to 115-day hybrid, but we’re seeing people stretch more than ever.”
And perhaps some of that ability to take risk comes from working with folks like Diener at Nutrien Ag Solutions. “First of all, our crop consultants are well-trained, and probably know more about your fields than anyone,” he observes. “We have the ability to put the right hybrid for the right acre and the right soil. And that’s great when we’re evaluating what to place on a field to provide the best return on inveltment.”
Nutrien Ag Solutions brings a lot of technology to the process, Diener says, noting that the company’s technology platform Echelon® provides solid support. He explains that when working with a grower, he knows the fertility of those fields and can identify those that need more nitrogen or other nutrients than others. “We can also know if the field or hybrid needs an early or a late application,” he notes. “We do know a lot about their fields and having a good partnership with the grower is essential, especially for the more progressive farmers. They want that personal touch and Nutrien Ag Solutions can provide that.”
In 2019, the Echelon® platform got an upgrade with a crop planning system that allows Diener and his colleagues the ability to author field plans. With that tool a Nutrien Ag Solutions agronomist can go field by field to author input plans that are very specific.
And that program is expanding in 2020 to provide a wider range of decisions that growers can manage from input planning to irrigation practices to tillage, equipment and labor utilization.
“Our customers are using more variable rate technology, and we want to match the seed to the nitrogen need,” Diener says. “With the crop planning tool, we can help a grower manage variable rate nitrogen, variable rate seed and have mapping capabilities and historical NDVI images.”
Those historical normalized difference vegetation index — NDVI — maps show the amount of green vegetation in a field, the living biomass. A historical look at those levels can paint a solid management picture for a farmer showing field areas where input issues may have been a problem in the past and need attention in the current growing season.
Nutrien Ag Solutions is using these high-tech tools partnered with the breeding program for the Dyna-Gro Seeds lineup of corn hybrids. Diener explains that the company can run trials of hybrids and view their performance under different input and weather conditions and present that information to the grower.
“We can see which hybrids respond to specific practices based on the research and data in Echelon®,” Diener says. “Even for individuals who don’t have the variable rate technology this kind of tool can show them specific population performance for certain hybrids. If they don’t have the technology for variable rate planting, at least they can know how specific hybrids respond to different planting populations.”
The technology is a great planning tool, but Diener notes that in-season work is important too. “It helps to have a knowledgeable seedsman and crop consultant at work for a farm to offer support for weed control and crop fertility,” he says. “We’re on the ground, scouting for trouble in those fields.”
Advice for 2020
Diener, like others, haven’t seen a year like 2019 in their field history. That means looking at data with an eye toward taking out results from last year due to wet weather. “Those hybrids did perform. The genetics really came through,” he says.
But with his experience, and the work he’s done with growers, Diener has a simple piece of advice: stick to the plan.
“If you had a great plan going into 2019, and you’re planning for 2020 as a normal year, whatever normal means, stick to the plan you had last year and roll it into this year,” he says. “And remain flexible. Last year, we ratcheted down some growers to shorter maturities, and we learned something. If you cut back too far you can hurt yourself. Work with your consultant closely when conditions are changing.”
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