BALTIC, South Dakota — The AgPhD Field Day on July 29 resumed near Baltic, South Dakota, with thousands of farmers from across the country anxious to learn more about cutting edge agronomic technology, catch field demonstrations including an autonomous tractor and learn from some of the nation’s top producers.

The most popular sessions featured some of the top yielding farming operations in the United States. Kelly Garrett, a Denison, Iowa, farmer and the National Corn Growers Association Corn Yield Contest winner, said he continues to push corn and soybean yields on his farm through the use of foliar fertilizer applications, hybrid and varietal selection, use of plant growth regulators, seeding populations, as well as use of variable rate seeding. He said any of those alone won’t produce results; it’s the combination that makes the difference.

“It’s very much attention to detail. There isn’t one silver bullet at all," he said. "There’s 10 or 12 or 15 things that you need to do correctly.”

When talking to other farmers, Garrett said some of the most common areas they overlook include the use of plant growth regulators, which have been a big plus in his operation because they direct the energy in the plant towards yield and not just the height of the plant.

“A plant growth regulator makes the plant grow more efficiently,” he said.

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Garrett also recommends checking the pH of the water on the farm, because water that is too hard due to high levels of iron and magnesium can tie up herbicides, fungicides or foliar fertilizer applications, making them unavailable to the crop.

Specifically on seeding populations, Garrett said they have backed off their rates.

“More plants don’t equate to more yield. What equates to more yield is a healthier plant, a more viable plant that can produce more for you,” he said.

Garrett also reminds farmers to make sure their planter is in good working order because proper seed establishment is critical in setting yield.

Farmers also travel for thousands of miles to see the newest technology in the AgPHD field trials at the Hefty Farm near Baltic. They displayed hundreds of plots in cooperation with nearly every major seed and crop protection company so farmers could make comparisons and see what is working the best under different field conditions.

Glenn Herz oversees research for Hefty Seed. He said the biggest area of growth has been with the biologicals especially with the major players in the industry.

“Guys continue to improve soil health and soil fertility, and, you know, some of the things that in the Midwest we deal with. We may have organic matter and stuff but there’s also times when we have nutrients that are tied up and that’s where the biologicals come in,” he said.

Another big growth area is fungicides, which Herz says has come about after the recent company mergers. That has allowed more dollars to be invested into research.

“And fungicides continue to improve. The longevity of fungicides, and then different modes, multiple modes of action on fungicides, they’re really getting into that,” he said.

He admits it’s difficult to put a number on the yield increase from using these fungicides, but especially in a drought year like 2021 in the northwestern Corn Belt, it is keeping the plant alive longer.

Herz said there are also some new tolerant crops to certain chemistries.

“We’ve got grain sorghum out here that’s showing some tolerance to almost like a Clearfield grain sorghum,” he said. According to Herz, that will allow some farmers to grow sorghum that hadn’t in the past because of the weed pressure.

Attendees of AgPhD Field Day near Baltic, South Dakota, on July 29, 2021, got to see a demonstration of an autonomous tractor with a grain cart.
Michelle Rook / Agweek
Attendees of AgPhD Field Day near Baltic, South Dakota, on July 29, 2021, got to see a demonstration of an autonomous tractor with a grain cart. Michelle Rook / Agweek
Field demonstrations included an autonomous tractor with a grain cart, and Herz said he got to use the system during some early small grain harvesting.

“To watch that thing in operation and to be within inches of me and I’m controlling where I want the grain cart to go and then all I do is push a button and it goes back to a staging area — that was really neat to see,” he said.

A new strip-till system from Environmental Tillage Systems Inc. was on display at the AgPhD Field Day near Baltic, South Dakota, on July 29, 2021. The SoilWarrior Edge platform is a three-point mounted strip-till system, which goes from eight rows up to 18 rows depending upon row spacing. 
Michelle Rook / Agweek
A new strip-till system from Environmental Tillage Systems Inc. was on display at the AgPhD Field Day near Baltic, South Dakota, on July 29, 2021. The SoilWarrior Edge platform is a three-point mounted strip-till system, which goes from eight rows up to 18 rows depending upon row spacing.  Michelle Rook / Agweek
Another demonstration displayed a new strip-till system from Environmental Tillage Systems Inc. Brent Brueland, vice president of sales and marketing, said the SoilWarrior Edge platform is a three-point mounted strip-till system, which goes from eight rows up to 18 rows depending upon row spacing.

“It’s convertible from shank to coulter and back and forth. You can run a single coulter, a shank/knife and coulter or three coulters. And you can convert to any type of fertilizer system,” he said.

He said strip tillage systems have been increasingly popular in the western Corn Belt for its environmental benefits and yield response.

“Being able to get the fertilizer underground and getting into that zone right where the plant needs it both increases efficiency and it makes it available for the plant when it needs it,” he said.