Eating the right food keeps you healthy, gives you energy and helps you grow. Nourishing soils with the right plant food does the same thing for crops and forages. Plants need a balanced diet as much as you do, and the right nutrition leads to healthier soils, better yields and higher-performing animals. That’s not only good for the farmers, but it’s also good for the land and a rapidly growing world population.
We have a few articles on crop and pasture fertility below from our experts in the field. CLICK HERE if you like to speak to any our precision experts or Agronomists. To find an MFA affiliate and schedule plant food applications for your operation, CLICK HERE. Our wholesale fertlizer experts are listed below.
MFA Incorporated is the leading, full-service agricultural supplier in its territory. We reach the length of the supply chain. Our plant food sales are approximately one-million-tons each year.
Our strategic river terminals and other bulk facilities give us capacity to deliver bulk quantities of plant food. Our investment in rolling stock, trucks and application equipment ensures seamless delivery to our retail customers.
MFA's full-line of plant foods products includes a wide array of nitrogen products (anyhdrous ammonia, urea, UAN solution), phosphorus materials (MAP, DAP, TSP, ammonium polyphosphates) as well as potash and K-Mag in addition to secondary and micronutrients. We also offer a complete line of ag lime and specialty products.
We offer variable rate equipment, custom application equipment and fertilizer buggies for customer use. And we feature a staff of regional agronomists, certified crop advisers and precision experts who can assist you with soil-testing services and plant foods recommendations.
Find your nearest MFA supplier here.
Want to be an MFA supplier? Click here.
Learn about our industry-leading Precision Agronomy programs here.
by David Moore & Landry Jones
Quality or quantity? When it comes to hay production, it’s not an either/or question. You want both.
Every year, we are asked by producers, “How can I make high-quality hay and lots of it?” There’s no simple answer. That’s what Ben Buckner, one of our MFA customers in southwest Missouri, discovered when he started managing forage more attentively on his cow/ calf operation in Walnut Grove. He raises 275 acres of hay and produces an average of 750 bales each year to support his beef herd.
“I’ve come to realize there are better ways to do things than the way I’ve done them in the past,” Ben told us, emphasizing that proper harvest timing and fertilization are two of his most important considerations.
For the past few years, Ben has worked with his local MFA to soil sample his forage fields and create a custom fertilizer blend, rather than spreading a blanket 3-1-1 analysis as he had done for many years. Last year, he enrolled in MFA’s Nutri-Track precision program, which helps him manage soil fertility on an acre-by-acre basis. He plans to add more acres this year.
Following other recommended management practices, Ben said he sprays his hayfields for weeds as much as his budget will allow and tries to start harvesting hay as early as possible to maximize quality and quantity. He’s learned that achieving the best of both worlds in hay production requires multistep management that starts long before baling.
If you, too, want a closer focus on high-quality, high-quantity hay, we offer these management tips to help accomplish your goals.
Species selection and diversity
The type of forage you grow is a driving force behind the quantity of hay you produce. Here in the Midwest, we have plenty of forage choices, and over time we can make species changes that improve production and create an abundant supply for the majority of the year.
Fescue is the predominant forage in the Midwest and yields 1 to 3 tons per acre in a single cutting and 3 to 5 tons in two or more cuttings during the season. These totals are quite typical for any cool-season grass.......
To increase tons per acre by species selection, look to alfalfa, bermudagrass, native warm-season grasses (NWSG) or summer annuals. Alfalfa and bermuda are both capable of 6-plus tons per acre in three to five cuttings per season. NWSG yields can average 4 to 5 tons per acre on the first cutting, depending on the species, and may yield a second cutting. Eastern gammagrass, big bluestem, little bluestem, Indiangrass and switchgrass all work well for haying operations. Sorghum-Sudangrass is an annual capable of two to three cuttings of 2-plus tons per acre.
We highly encourage you to have a portion of your farm in warm-season grasses. They’re harvested later than cool-season forages and can provide good-quality hay without increasing your workload during the busiest part of spring. Plus, native grasses are inherently more efficient with fertilizer than most other forages.
When it comes to quality, there is a fair amount of variability among various species. Legumes, as a rule, test higher in crude protein and digestibility than perennial, annual and native grasses. That being said, stage of maturity at cutting has the largest impact in crude protein, digestibility and energy in baled forage.
Grid soil sampling
Many growers use composite soil samples, which can get you started in the right direction. A composite soil sample gives you the average fertility and pH of the field. That means roughly half the field is above that mark and half is below. When you apply the recommended plant nutrients and lime, you meet the needs of half the field, but it won’t be enough for the other half.
Grid sampling through a program such as MFA’s Nutri-Track gives you a comprehensive look at the fertility and pH of every acre. Composite samples are taken on a 2.5-acre grid, which allows you to precisely apply nutrients and lime. Think about it as a report card with details on how you can maximize forage production more efficiently.
On the Buckner farm, Ben had seen an increase in sage grass in a hay field where he’d always applied the same fertilizer analysis. After working with MFA on soil testing and custom application, he said the sage grass has decreased and hay yields have increased.
“MFA has really helped me by making a fertilizer blend that is not only what my soil needs but also the most economical for my operation,” Ben said. “Most producers have limited acres, and Nutri-Track allows me to maximize every acre of my hay fields to be more efficient and productive.”
Variable-rate application of lime and fertilizer
The soil-test reports generated through Nutri-Track allow producers to use variable-rate technology to spoon-feed each acre with the proper amount of fertilizer and lime. As a result, you maximize production while more efficiently investing fertilizer dollars.
A proper diet of nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and sulfur plays a key role in hay quantity and quality. Phosphorus, in particular, has many uses in the plant. One of the most important is developing and maintaining a vigorous root system for uptake of nutrients and water. Potassium, too, has many essential functions in the plant, such as improving standability and water-use efficiency. In drought situations, low P and K levels indicate poor root systems that can’t hang on to what little water is available.
Variable-rate applications of lime are just as crucial to hay health. Having the correct pH on every acre makes all nutrients more available to the plant, therefore improving leaf matter, palatability and crude protein levels. Better palatability improves consumption and animal performance.
It goes without saying that controlling weeds increases forage quality. This is especially true with the huge influx of toxic weeds we have seen in recent years, such as poison hemlock, horse nettle, perilla mint and nightshade. Unfortunately, most remain toxic when cut, baled and fed, so control of these weeds is a must.
Controlling weeds isn’t just about improving quality, however. Long term, controlling weeds also has a huge impact on tons per acre. For every pound of weeds you terminate, you get 1 to 2 pounds of desirable forage in return. Start with a clean field and keep it clean for maximum yields.
Before harvest begins, be sure your cutter bar is set to the right height. For cool-season grasses, it should be at least 4 inches high, while alfalfa and bermudagrass can be cut at 2 inches without adverse effects. Annual and native warm-season grasses should cut to a height of 6 to 8 inches.
Growers often ask why we recommend leaving so much forage in the field. The answer is two-fold: stand life and recovery time. Repeatedly cutting below the recommended height, or the growing point of the plant, decreases tillering and thins the stand, allowing more room for competitive weeds to encroach. Short cutting heights also remove much of the carbohydrate reserves and photosynthesis capacity, delaying recovery of the grass stand. Rapid recovery leads to a higher likelihood of a good, timely second harvest, and honestly, you really don’t add that many pounds to the harvest with shorter cuttings.
Maturity stage at harvest is the most important factor influencing forage quality. As the crop matures, crude protein falls, fiber increases, digestibility decreases and palatability drops. Waiting for a great weather forecast usually results in more lost quality than a rain event would have caused. If rain is in the forecast, and you can time harvest correctly, precipitation right after cutting doesn’t cause nearly as much damage as rain on dry hay.
It’s a principle Ben Buckner says he tries to live by.
“We cut as early as weather will allow,” he said. “We realize that good-quality hay is not only better for the cows, but also you don’t have to feed as much to meet their nutritional needs.”
Cutting legumes in the bud to early bloom stage provides a great compromise of quality and yield. Cool-season grasses and NWSG should ideally be cut in the boot stage, which is very early in the reproductive stage of growth. Stem elongation is happening, and you can feel the seed head inside the stem, but it is not emerged yet.
Alfalfa is typically ready for the first cutting in late April or early May. Cool-season grasses such as orchardgrass, fescue and brome are typically in the boot stage by early to mid-May. When it comes to harvest timing, native warm-season grasses have a real advantage. Their first harvest, at the boot stage, is typically in mid-June. Not only are rainfall events a little further apart in June, but warmer temperatures encourage faster curing of the hay.
After baling, native grasses can be grazed rotationally, or a second cutting can be taken, as long as it’s before Sept. 1. Warm-season annuals should be cut each time they reach around 30 inches. Bermudagrass should be harvested at 15 to 18 inches. In cool-season grass pastures, you can generally take additional cuttings every 4 to 6 weeks after the first harvest.
Anything that shortens the time between cutting and baling helps to mitigate risk of weather losses. Using a mower/conditioner and tedder can be a great help in shortening that interval. Baling high-moisture hay (45-60%) and wrapping it for haylage is a practice that is expanding every year.
Preventing leaf loss during harvest is important. For this reason, alfalfa is frequently raked with the dew on. With the use of mold inhibitors, alfalfa can be baled at moistures approaching 30%. Likewise, grass hay should still be carrying some moisture when raked. Leaf shatter is unacceptably high when overly dry windrows are raked and baled. Use of net wrap greatly reduces loss of dry matter in movement and storage of the bale.
We realize that management of pastures and hay fields is not a one-size-fits-all approach, but putting these recommendations to use on your farm houls allow you to produce more - and better - hay on fewer acres than you have in the past and give you more forage for grazing this summer.
If you need more information on forage management or are interested in MFA's Nutri-Track program, contact either of us: David Moore at firstname.lastname@example.org or Landry Jones at email@example.com.
David Moore is a MFA range and pasture specialist. Landry Jones is MFA's conservation grazing specialist.
Learn more about MFA's Nutri-Track, a precision nutrient management program designed for cropland and pastureland. CLICK HERE.
Originally published in Today's Farmer Magazine, Click for photos and original article.
by Thad Becker, MFA Precision Data Manager in Nutri-Track
The 2019 growing season was certainly memorable, but it may be one that many would like to forget. Despite the stress it put on both growers and input suppliers, I feel there are many lessons to be learned in such an extreme year.
Last year, MFA used a new nitrogen-modeling tool called Nutri-Track N. It was certainly an interesting year to roll out this new technology. While we had been experimenting and demonstrating Nutri-Track N since 2016, last year was the first time we had such extreme potential for nitrogen loss. Previously, we had seen this recommendation tool help improve nitrogen use efficiency to 0.8 pound of nitrogen for every bushel of corn yield in many areas. That wasn’t possible in 2019, with excess rainfall pushing nitrogen below the root zone of the corn crop before it could be utilized.
During the past growing season, it took significantly more nitrogen to raise a bushel of corn than it did in previous years. For example, in one field where a check strip was left with no top-dress application, there was a 40-bushel per acre yield penalty. Nutri-Track N let us see the trend developing and respond appropriately, which is exactly what we hoped would happen. This recommendation system allows us to tailor nitrogen applications to the current weather pattern.
What makes the Nutri-Track N system different? It is based on years of university research that explains and models nitrogen’s life cycle in a field. It collects rainfall, temperature, soil data and all the agronomic field practices we can provide, and then it estimates the amount of N that is available when the crop needs it most and models the need moving forward. Not only does it track what nitrogen is applied but also estimates what has been mineralized from soil organic matter (OM). The more information we can feed to the program, the better the recommendation.
The best recs are achieved with the combination of grid sampling to provide OM levels and historic yield data to give us variable yield potential. By evaluating all these factors, Nutri-Track N shows the current status of the field and where it is expected to be at the end of the season—assuming typical weather patterns. The model is constantly improving by updating every night with new adjustments based on the previous day’s actual recorded weather.......
In practice last year, this technology worked as we had hoped. In mid-May, the MFA Precision Agronomy team started to send out alerts to our staff, warning that fields with unprotected fall nitrogen applications were at extreme risk of running short of this essential plant nutrient. By late May, we began to see more fields—even some that had received spring applications— that would benefit from topping off the nitrogen mid-season. The windows were tight to get that N applied, but it paid dividends when the combines rolled this past fall. In my estimation, nitrogen management was second only to stand establishment in terms of importance to overall yields in 2019.
So, what did we learn from last year?
While we’ve always understood that using split applications with a planned top-dress application could improve nitrogen use efficiency, this past season, the system paid big yield dividends as well.
The later we can wait to make our overall total nitrogen investment, the better off we are. The more information we have about our growing season, the better N rate decisions we can make.
Protecting your nitrogen with proven stabilizers pays. Anything we can do to maintain nitrogen in the ammonium form in the soil for a longer period is critical, not only to protect your investment but also keeping that nitrate out of surface waters.
There is no single right rate or application method for all of our nitrogen needs. It is a system with many variables. However, with the right tools we can continue to improve efficiency and yields as we gain experience and knowledge.
I’m excited to see the results from those producers who used Nutri-Track N last year. While no two years are the same, I feel confident that we are managing nitrogen better today and will continue to improve into the future.
Learn more about MFA's Nutri-Track, a precision nutrient management program designed for cropland and pastureland. CLICK HERE.
Originally published in Today's Farmer Magazine.
by Jason Worthington, MFA Staff Agronomist in Crop-Trak
Turbocharged engines are popular in many vehicles today because of the improved performance they provide. The turbocharger boosts horsepower, or output, while increasing fuel efficiency. It works by capturing unused energy from the engine exhaust to power a turbine. This, in turn, powers a compressor, which forces air into the intake of the vehicle, allowing a greater percentage of fuel to burn with each stroke of the engine. The result is greater output with less fuel by introducing a little more air.
The turbocharger is a really good example of synergy, where the output seems to outpace the cost of the inputs. Synergies in crop inputs are often misunderstood, oversold or dismissed, but some combinations do work and pay big dividends. One such example of successful synergy is the use of foliar slow-release nitrogen (SRN) in conjunction with foliar-applied fungicides.Slow-release nitrogen products......
...are often touted as a more efficient method of N delivery in which low-use rates can replace multiple pounds of soil-applied N to reach a similar yield. In my opinion, this is the worst expectation to have from an SRN. It can’t replace sound base nitrogen fertility—just like a turbo would be useless if there were no oxygen to pump into the system.
Where slow-release nitrogen can really shine is when used with strobilurin fungicides. Beyond disease control, fungicide benefits include stay-green, stress tolerance and standability. What we don’t often discuss is where those advantages come from. With stress tolerance, increased photosynthesis and grain fill, the biggest impact comes from increased efficiency in nitrogen metabolism. The trick is having enough available N to “boost” that process.
Like the turbocharger increases the amount of oxygen for an engine to more efficiently burn fuel, SRNs provide enough nitrogen to allow fungicides to reduce stress and promote plant growth, resulting in more gain at higher N efficiency.
We’ve seen positive results of an SRN-fungicide combination in trials like the one conducted by Dr. Kelly Nelson with the University of Missouri’s Greenley Research Station. He added 1 gallon of SRN to a fungicide application of Headline AMP at tassel to corn. While Headline alone added 14.5 bushels per acre, adding SRN led to an increase of more than 25 bushels per acre. Thanks to the synergy created by the combined application, the amount of N is far less than required to add 9 bushels in traditional thinking.
Slow-release nitrogen products have been available for quite some time, and we have recommended them as a way to increase the efficiency of a fungicide application. Recently, MFA took it a step further by introducing a new proprietary product, Gold Advantage Trend-B, which is an SRN with boron added. Boron is an essential nutrient needed during the crop’s reproductive stages for grain development.
The issue with boron, unlike many plant nutrients, is that it is very mobile in the soil but not in the plant. This means that even if you do fertilize with boron up front, what is not taken up early is likely lost, and what is taken up early does not move in the plant to areas it is most needed. A plant with a fungicide plus SRN and deficient boron is like a turbo’s boost being held back by an engine with poor timing. Trend-B not only adds the small amount of available N necessary to help a fungicide “turbocharge” plant performance, but it also helps maintain optimal boron nutrition, which is often needed late in the season.\Proper timing is critical to get the most out of these applications. Talk with your Crop-Trak consultant or other experts at your MFA location today about the opportunity to improve your crop’s health and increase yields by combining fungicides with SRN foliar nutrition.
CLICK HERE to learn more about Crop-Track, MFA's premium crop, pasture scouting and management program that helps producers grow more high quality hay, grass and row crops.
Originally published in Today's Farmer Magazine.
by Adam Jones, Natural Resources Conservation Specialist in MFA Precision AG
The world of weed control in forage systems has seen some growth in the past decades. Where growers in row-crop systems have been patiently awaiting new products to hit the marketplace, forage producers have been blessed with new options. Along with the ability to consistently remove broadleaf weeds from pasture and hay fields comes the ability to apply those herbicides in cost-effective ways, such as dry fertilizer impregnation (DFI).
With DFI, a pasture weed-control product is coated onto dry fertilizer being applied to forage fields. The real advantage of this system is the herbicide’s residual control, which suppress especially small or yet unemerged weeds. By allowing fertility and weed control to be applied simultaneously, DFI can be a tremendous cost and time savings during a busy time of year for many of MFA’s diversified growers.............
There are many advantages to this approach, but DFI still should be treated like any other weed-control system in forage production. Expectations should be based on when the product is applied and how much coverage is attained. The best control will still be achieved with good coverage in a broadcast spray scenario. Control of emerged weeds using DFI is expected to achieve 60-70% of that of a well-timed broadcast application. The good news is that residual control of unemerged weeds is excellent.
Here are a few considerations when using weed control with DFI:
Coverage is king. MFA recommends at least 250 pounds per acre of dry product applied with herbicide. The more product applied, the more even distribution of the weed control active ingredient placement. Double spreading is also recommended to ensure good, even coverage.
Adjust timing. Optimal time for controlling summer annual weeds in pasture is later in the season than most grass fertilizer applications. On pasture, May is an ideal time to get the residual control in products such as GrazonNext HL or the newly released DuraCor for summer annuals. For good control on hay fields, timing should be closer to early April. These later-season applications generally influence production of more leafy matter in the grass stand, resulting in higher-quality forage. Weed identification is still critical when planning for application timing. Contact your local MFA for assistance with both weed ID and optimal timing for application.
When looking at fertilizer applications later in the season, think about the growth curves of cool-season grasses such as fescue. Nitrogen uptake is winding down by May or June, so an application would be a great chance to catch up on some P and K based on needs identified in soil samples.
Advance the system. With land costs continuing to be high, maximizing the acres you currently operate remains critical to the economics of profitable forage production. Weed control is a good first step. Continue to move your forage growth forward by addressing fertility based on soil sample data, leaving residual forages to allow for faster regrowth, and diversifying your grass species to take advantage of hot, dry summers.
MFA is excited to be offering dry fertilizer impregnation at many of our locations this year. We think it’s an efficient way to manage weeds on acres that may have not had such control in the past. If you’re interested in pasture weed control this season, contact me or your local MFA for the product and system that will work best for you.
CLICK HERE to learn more about MFA Precision Ag.