Agronomic resiliency in 2022

By John Schoenhals, Pioneer Field Agronomist, Northern Ohio

Resiliency is defined as the ability to recover quickly from difficulties or “toughness.” Lately, this term has been used quite often. Electric grid resiliency is used following hurricanes and storm outbreaks. Economic resiliency is discussed following the COVID-19 pandemic and mandated shutdowns. The resilience of underdogs competing against juggernauts in March madness basketball has been another recent topic.  

John Schoenhals, Pioneer Field Agronomist in northern Ohio

In 2022, “resiliency” is the goal of every farmer planting or tending a crop. From sky-high fertilizer prices to pesticide availability to tar spot concerns to equipment and parts inventories, the buildup to the start of the 2022 growing season has been filled with remarkable, unparalleled, and in some cases, downright concerning headlines in the ag industry. In addition, global unrest and lingering weather concerns have led to historic volatility in the price of commodities. 

Against this backdrop, resilient growers will be those who are prepared with a plan, surrounded by trusted advisors, and willing to adapt to challenges.  The “basics” of production agriculture will pay big dividends this year: soil sampling, preventive equipment maintenance, crop scouting, choosing the best seed genetics for your farm, knowing your cost of production, and a healthy dose of prayer.

Decreased output in herbicide manufacturing and slowed distribution channels have increased the importance of growers planning their season-long weed control strategy months ahead of the growing season. Herbicide availability may well force some growers into utilizing a “Plan B” or even “Plan C” approach to weed control this year, making crop scouting to determine proper tank mixes and timing of applications more important than ever. In addition, the use of pre-emergence residual herbicides and in-crop residuals will provide multiple lines of defense against tough-to-control weeds.  

When it comes to tar spot, the widespread and aggressive nature of this disease means that prevention is not feasible on every acre. In addition to planting corn hybrids with demonstrated tar spot tolerance, it is important to stay on top of what is happening in the field this season so that fungicide applications can take place before it is too late.

The spike in fertilizer prices is one of the biggest concerns at the start of this growing season. In light of this, maximizing every pound of fertilizer is more important than ever. For phosphorous and potassium, recent soil sample results can help guide decisions about application rate adjustments this year. 

For nitrogen, simply reducing application rates is likely to result in yield reductions. Fortunately, there are several tools available to help minimize nitrogen losses and improve nitrogen use efficiency. Nitrogen stabilizers come in two main categories: nitrification inhibitors and urease inhibitors. 

Nitrification inhibitors slow down the conversion of ammonium (which is fairly stable in the soil) to nitrate (which can be more easily lost). While plants can use both ammonium and nitrate forms, the nitrate form is at highest risk of loss from leaching and denitrification. Instinct (used with UAN, urea, and liquid manure) and N-Serve (for anhydrous ammonia) are some of the most commonly used nitrification inhibitors.

Urease inhibitors have a different function. These products (such as Agrotain) prevent volatilization of nitrogen that is left on the soil surface. Urease inhibitors are important to use when applying UAN or urea to the soil surface when warm temperatures are present, such as Y-dropping liquid nitrogen or broadcasting urea in standing corn.

A newer area of development in agriculture is biological and plant health products. Some are soil-applied to promote nutrient availability and uptake (like humic and fulvic acids) or are formulated to enhance soil biology to aid in nutrient cycling. Others harness specific microbes to fix nitrogen into forms directly useable to the plant (ProveN requires in-furrow soil application, while UtrishaN can be applied in a foliar spray). 

The 2022 growing season will bring numerous challenges — some of which are known today and some of which will not become apparent until later. In the face of these challenges, relying on a trusted team of advisors, making a plan, and executing that plan will not only lead to resiliency on the farm, but also will help to reduce the personal stress that can come with challenging times. 

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