Hot ag topics for 2014 from Iowa On-Farm Network

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Some people make New Year’s Resolutions. The Iowa On-Farm Network team made a list of the topics it thinks will be in the news more than ever for 2014 and the success and future for on-farm trials. Farmers working with the Iowa Soybean Association (ISA) On-Farm Network use precision agriculture tools and technology to run on-farm field trials. Trial strips compare a grower’s normal practice with just one alternative, which can be a difference in products used, application method, timing, or other management practices.

Data and Technology
“Big data” may have big potential in agriculture. “One of the goals of companies developing large databases of ag information is to generate better agronomic recommendations,” said Pat Reeg, ISA On-Farm Network operations manager. “As we talk with growers participating in the On-Farm Network, some are very excited with the decision aid tools in the pipeline. Others are skeptical and concerned about their privacy and ownership of the data collected.”

Since the very beginning of the programming that grew into the On-Farm Network and Environmental Programs and Services, ISA has collected large volumes of data from participating farmers. This includes georeferenced aerial imagery, yield results, plant and soil samples and other relevant spatial data used for research purposes.

“This data is owned by the participating farmers who remain anonymous when we disseminate the results,” Reeg said. “Our objective is to discover, implement and validate the use of advanced agronomic production practices that improve productivity, profitability and environmental quality for Iowa farmers. One way this is achieved is through the use of replicated strip trials comparing products and or practices within fields and then aggregating that data across many locations and over time.

The online fungicide calculator and replicated strip trial database are two example of how farmers can use “Big Data” to make informed decisions. These tools use real-world comparisons based on years of data that can inform farmers and can also provide an indication on the return of investment for products and practices studied.

Technology is simplifying the data collection process and rapidly increasing the amount of information that can be collected. “Advanced GPS systems, wireless data transfer from precision agriculture equipment, and UAV’s are just a few of the topics we will cover at the upcoming On-Farm Network Conference,” Reeg said. “In addition, we will provide a session specific to discuss “Big Data” as it relates to ISA research and beyond.”

Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy
Whether you’ve felt it yet or not, this important document will eventually impact all Iowa farmers. It was pulled together by a widely varied team that included scientists, farmers, business people and government agency representatives from both the state and federal level. Not only does it include a roadmap for reducing ag and other non-point source contributions to Iowa’s waters, it also includes the science and a list of practices farmers can use to implement nutrient reduction on their own farms. Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey will open the Thursday, February 20, On-Farm Network Conference program with an update on progress since the plan was enacted last spring, as well as discuss farmer and landowner obligations under it. Matt Lechtenberg, state water quality coordinator, will lead a conference breakout session on practices, structures and other means of reducing nutrient loss.

Cover Crops
Interest in cover crops in Iowa has been growing over the past few years, but adoption of the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy has brought them to the forefront. Based on the science outlined in the strategy, cover crops, especially in combination with reduced tillage or no-till, look to be one of the most effective practices farmers can adopt to reduce soil and nutrient losses. While cover crops may seem like a simple fix, Iowa farmers attempting to integrate them into crop rotations have found getting covers seeded and stands established can be a challenge. Seed selection, seeding rates, timing and method of seeding, spring burndown, and the potential of soil moisture uptake ahead of the main crop in dry springs, are among the factors growers must consider in using cover crops.

Farmers working with the On-Farm Network have conducted a number of cover crops trials, beginning in 2007. Tristan Mueller, On-Farm Network operations manager, and Heath Ellison, resource management specialist with ISA Environmental Programs and Services, will discuss results of ISA studies. In addition, Steve Groff, Cover Crop Solutions, and a panel of Iowa grower will discuss cover crop use.

Another place to go for cover crop information this winter is the Cover Crop Workshops at the Iowa Power Farming Show, January 28-30, being held in Hy-Vee Hall, downtown Des Moines.

Herbicide Resistant Weed Management

“It’s essential that we rotate the chemical mode-of-action and not just switch herbicides,” said Mueller. This has worked in controlling glyphosate resistant weeds like waterhemp. It becomes even more important with the confirmed finding of multi-herbicide resistant Palmer Amaranth in Iowa last fall.

Mike Owen, Iowa State University Extension weed scientist, has been preaching the benefits of rotating herbicides for more years than he might want to admit. Owen will lead a session on herbicide resistant weed management at the 2014 On-Farm Network Conference.

Additionally, Jason Norsworthy, University of Arkansas Extension weed scientist, will give Iowa growers an update on the fight against herbicide resistant weeds in southern states.

 

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Corn Rootworm Control
“Corn rootworm has little impact on yield in a two-year corn-soybean rotation,” said Mueller. “If we add a year of corn to make a three-year corn-corn-bean rotation, we see rootworm becoming an issue in that second year of corn. Our On-Farm Network studies and other observations suggest that the more you stretch the number of corn years in the rotation, the more you benefit you’ll see from a soil applied insecticide at planting, even if you’re planting the latest Bt-Rootworm hybrids.”

Aaron Gassman, Iowa State University extension entomologist, will talk about the western corn rootworm situation in Iowa at the On-Farm Network conference. Mueller will lead a conference session updating the continuing On-Farm Network corn rootworm/soil applied insecticide trials.

Adaptive management and its use in risk analysis

“Crop production is exposed to many factors,” said Peter Kyveryga, Ph.D., ISA On-Farm Network. “The effects some of these factors could have on crop yield and profitability are not well known, or are difficult to quantify. Lower commodity prices, higher input costs, adverse weather conditions, spatial variability in soil and crop yields are only a few factors that add to the uncertainty and risks in crop production on your farm.”

Kyveryga says one way to deal with this uncertainty is being a part of a grower network that uses modern technologies, specific methodologies and adaptive management principles to evaluate various production practices, inputs and quantify various risks in crop management and environmental conservation.

“Experiences in other industries have shown that combined efforts by many participants and stakeholders can lead to collection of research data that can be used to substantially reduce risk, regulatory and environmental pressures and significantly increase profitability by making more reliable management decisions at the farm level,” he said. “By participating in organized On-Farm Network trials, you’re helping add to the data on subjects that are important to crop production in Iowa.”


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