Learning from field experiences

Farm Forum

Monday night, Dale and I headed out in our pickup to check crops. With some fields about 10 miles away, I don’t get the chance to see the progression of the corn and soybeans as often as he does.

I’ve been gone for a couple of weeks, so it was great to see the ears dented with 18 rows of kernels and the silks turning brown. The stand in the field looks good. During the month of August, we received more than 3 inches of rain, so there was water standing in some of the low spots in the fields.

The soybeans are pretty happy, too. Pods are filling. As the calendar has now changed to September, degree days to dry the plants down before harvest now take precedence.

Heading out to the Innovation Plot tour near Bath on Tuesday, I learned a lot from the samples shown of different ways to plant the crops with different populations. So many times I don’t realize how deep the roots travel. The pits exposing the root systems revealed a lot of information.

Brad Ruden told me that the Bath area reached its average normal rainfall at the end of August. Other areas have been drenched, but south of us, they could still use some rain.

Seeing the name Dr. Fred Below on the program assured me of a learning experience. I talked with him at the Oahe Farm and Ranch Show a couple of years ago. His presentation has changed somewhat, but his determination to help farmers achieve better yields remains the same.

Below said he always enjoys looking at plots when he speaks at events like this. “I like to see those that are not in my world. I like to learn the challenges from this area and see how other people solve similar challenges. I like it when I can take that home and try those things.”

Below told me that research on narrow rows will continue to be a priority. There isn’t a wealth of data out there so far.

He said there continues to be a huge gap between the potential of the seed and what is being grown, and he believes that by improving management, farming techniques can be used to improve yields.

When asked what else he’s working on, he said in Illinois he has a plot that features sub surface drip irrigation, with dripper lines below every row. He thinks that by using the knowledge of nutrient uptake that has been amassed, researchers can provide nutrition through the system and limit the impact on the environment. It’s ideal for those places that are water limited, have good sunshine, and cool nights.

With it, he thinks it can be possible to grow 400 bushels of corn per acre.

He told me, “In my world, I always need to have something new to try, and I always have to be reasonable with it.”

“If that could work and we could appreciably increase the yield, it would be worth it to put in $2,000 to $3,000 to put in such a system rather than buy another acre of land at $12,000 an acre. It would take a couple of years to pay for itself.”

With the increasing demands on water, managing water with nutrients will be the future.

Those who come to presentations such as the Innovation Plot tours are those who are willing to try new things and have an absolute driving desire to learn.

At the S.D. State Fair in Huron, some farmers told him that they’d done some of the things he’s talked about and they seemed to be working. “I was so proud. No one size fits all. That’s one of the great things about ag and also one of the challenges.”

As far as the challenges, farmers have to want to reach for those top yields and do what they can to learn. “I don’t have magic bullets. I wish I had magic bullets, but I hope my presentations inspire farmers to use the things they know and maybe improve some of the packaging.”

Below said there’s a proverb that says, “I hear, I learn, I do, or something like that. To me seeing is believing, and I don’t believe anything until I can see it.”