Best of the Best

Last year's drier weather and dramatic acreage changes prompted big turnout at the "Best of the Best in Wheat and Soybean Research and Marketing" conference Feb. 1 in Grand Forks, N.D., an opportunity for producers to prepare for the 2007 season.

Last year's drier weather and dramatic acreage changes prompted big turnout at the "Best of the Best in Wheat and Soybean Research and Marketing" conference Feb. 1 in Grand Forks, N.D., an opportunity for producers to prepare for the 2007 season.

Sponsored by nine research and promotional organizations, the daylong event featured updates on disease, weeds, equipment and soil preparation.

"Our rotations have definitely changed in the past few years," says Jochum Wiers-

ma, a small grains specialist at the University of Minnesota Crookston.

Rotation changes


After peaking at 2 million acres, Wiers-

ma says wheat acres in Minnesota have steadily declined. In 1974, there were

5½ million acres of oats in Minnesota, "now none of us seem to have even seen any oats, lately," he says.

Sunflower production in the Northern Plains also peaked in the 1970s and early 1980s and just now is rebounding from a dramatic decline because of devastating midge damage.

New varieties offering better disease resistance and shorter growing seasons are prompting the next generation of farmers to consider rotation changes, Wiersma says. At the same time, unpredictable climate conditions can create uncertainty for growers in this region.

"We've had higher summer dew points in this area," he says. "That has definitely had an impact on plant physiology, and it's a detriment for cool season crops like wheat and barley."

Wiersma also demonstrated new technology at the workshop, designed to help wheat growers get a better handle on their crop's protein content. The INFRATEC 1229 Grain Analyzer uses near-infrared reflectance spectroscopy to measure protein without grinding the grain or adding acids.

It works on the principle that some molecules do not absorb light, while others do and actually become agitated. Wiersma says the technology provides immediate results, but several factors can affect its accuracy, including grain temperature, chaff or dirt in the grain or on the scope's glass plates and even power supply variations.


Wiersma says the technology is now being put to use inside the combine, mapping grain protein levels across the field and possibly identifying problem areas.

"Your take home lesson is that sampling is crucial," he says.

Planting innovations

John Nowatzki, an extension agricultural and biosystems engineer at North Dakota State University in Fargo, says he has surveyed area equipment dealers to see what's new for the upcoming season. He thinks enterprising farmers are responsible for many new innovations.

"It's interesting that it's very much farmer-driven," he says. "Generally, what I see, is the really adaptive farmer who is out there making changes themselves, and they're often ahead of the equipment companies."

Nowatzki says conservation is driving many of this year's planting equipment improvements.

"Conservation of the environment, and more particularly conservation in terms of economics. Trying to do things that are going to make it a little more profitable, particularly because it costs more to apply nitrogen, and it costs more for fuel," he says.

Nowatzki says the movement away from hoe row-openers to disk-openers makes one-pass production more challenging. He thinks more producers are turning to midrow banders in an attempt to avoid seed burn. As a result, he expects more demand for quality choppers and spreaders for managing residue.


Notwatzki says narrower planting rows aren't as difficult to manage as most producers would guess. He cites research from Manitoba and Saskatchewan suggesting that less-disruptive planting rows produce fewer weeds. The same study also suggests better yields with narrower strips.

Information technology also is a hot commodity this year.

"When I ask dealers what's new, invariably their first sentence is 'variable rate application,'" Nowatzki says. However, he is quick to point out that variable rate systems rely on several components, including the GPS controller, the variable rate applicator, and a prescription map.

"The downside is it takes a whole lot of knowledge to make it work," he warns, adding that much of the required equipment doesn't come standard, but is an add-on to new equipment purchases.

Bean counting

Some of the advice offered to this year's growers was decidedly low-tech. University of Minnesota extension educator Hans Kandel dispells some popular notions about soybean seeds and germination.

"When you're looking at seed size, what are we looking for?" he asks, admitting that logic suggests smaller seeds produce more crop per bushel. However, he produced seedlings showing more robust growth from bigger seeds.

The reason, he says, is the larger seeds contain more food reserves for the plant, stored in the cotyledons. The longer these embryonic leaves remain attached to the plant, providing additional nutrition, the more vigorous the seedling will be.


Kandel also produced side-by-side comparisons showing how plants growing in undrained soil are slower to develop than those in well-drained soil. He explains that oxygen is essential for healthy plant growth, and saturated soils typically are oxygen-starved.

Disease update

Although soybeans are just catching on in many parts of North Dakota, NDSU plant pathology professor Berlin Nelson says it won't be long before soybean diseases start popping up.

"Soybean cyst nematode is the new bully coming in," he says. "We haven't heard of it here, except in (North Dakota's) Richland and Cass counties, but this little worm is going to get here eventually."

While frigid winter temperatures may help protect against some pests, Nelson says cold weather actually kills the soybean cyst nematode's predators, allowing it to thrive during the growing season.

"You don't see any typical above ground symptoms with this pest," he says.

But especially where soybeans are planted in consecutive seasons, stunted growth and bare patches gradually may appear, and yields can drop dramatically.

Nelson says growers can't count on resistant cultivars to avoid the damage, and he recommends that growers routinely test their soil. For fighting pests and disease in general, Nelson says smart planning is the best defense.


"I can't stress enough the importance of crop rotation. I know a lot of growers don't want to hear that back-to-back rotations are a problem, but that's where those problems are building up."

With increased interest in corn in this region, NDSU extension plant pathologist Marcia McMullen wants growers to know the booming crop may contribute to more wheat disease.

"I know we're going into a cycle where we're going to see a lot of corn, and corn is a risk to wheat and barley," she says.

McMullen also points out that of the five main wheat diseases found in this region, three of them can overwinter in crop residue. She recommends management tools such as variety choice, crop rotation, and early- and late-season fungicides for fighting tan spot, septoria leaf spots and Fusarium head blight.

NDSU extension researchers surveyed 1,100 wheat fields statewide last year and found tan spot to be the most prevalent disease in 2006.

In 2005, despite a record wet June, McMullen says scab losses were much lower than they were in 1993 and 1997.

"We've learned a lot since those epidemic years," she says.

On the other hand, McMullen worries that growers may be growing complacent about wheat smut.


"Wheat smut is really getting out of hand," she says, adding that the seed-borne disease is not visible to the naked eye and even is difficult to detect with the current testing technology.

Since it's hard to detect, McMullen worries that producers trying to reduce expenses actually may be making themselves vulnerable to disease-related losses.

"I think people trying to cut costs have reduced their seed treatment, but these treatments do have a place," she warns. "With the price of wheat, I think you can afford it."

What To Read Next
Get Local