24.05.2013

Time of Discovery or Impressions of farmers’ operation in South Dakota

Elena Dudkina, Senior technologist of crop production, Agro-Soyuz (Ukraine)

A business trip is like vagrancy. Neonila Martyniuk (Agro-Soyuz’s representative in North and South America) and I spent July in the RV with a simple number plate «Zemlya» («Earth»).

During this time we visited successful farmers of South Dakota (USA). It was extremely hot — 40-44 degrees Celsius. Local media was reporting about abnormal temperatures and the fact that corn will not become pollinated, so there will be no yield. While we were there the price of corn zoomed up from 6 to 12 US Dollars per bushel (!). This was approximately the time, when International stock-exchanges got the jitters about high temperatures and low yields in USA. As you see, climatic problems reached all the corners of our planet and the problems of farmers are very similar. It is necessary to change something in crop production methods; adapt to new arid climatic conditions.

The purpose of my trip was to participate in a 2-day conference on agronomic changes.

This conference was held by the South Dakota State University (SDSU Extension) in cooperation with farmers and ranchers (for us — producers of crops and livestock). The speakers are very renowned specialists in the agrarian world: Phil Needham, Needham Ag Technologies (he’s also called the King of Wheat), Fred B BELOW, University of Illinois at Urbana and Howard Woodard, South Dakota State University and others. The objective was to learn how to achieve high corn yields and refresh knowledge about production of other crops. South Dakota is a good place for the event like this: local farmers produce rather high corn yields (10-16 t/ha). Their climate is very similar to ours (Ukrainian steppe). We have similar temperature and precipitation fluctuations, but our soils are different from theirs (water-holding capacity of our soils is higher). This is why the speakers stressed the importance of water accumulation in the soil, soil cover and quality and amount of crop residues.

Fred BELOW and Howard Woodard explained all the pertinentdetails of corn production: from seeding and fertilizing to spraying and harvest.

Producers from USA use high-yielding corn hybrids and plant corn in wide rows: with a 30-inch row spacing (76 cm); the plant population is as high as 80,000-100,000 per hectare. This stand density is tolerable by new corn hybrids, offered by such seed companies as Dekalb Monsanto, Syngenta and others.

Corn likes a quick start. If it has enough nitrogen, loose and warm seedbed and good weed control, it will grow quickly and will establish its potential before 9th leaf.

After the Conference we visited the annual Field Day conducted by South Dakota State University Research Professor and Dakota Lakes Research Farm Farm Manager Dwayne Beck.

Dr. Beck has been studying how to improve crop’s water use in arid environments for 30 years. He manages a research farm near Pierre, South Dakota where he studies soils and crops under dryland (no irrigation) and wet (with irrigation) conditions.

In fact, American scientists are not working for the sake of science. They work so that ordinary farmers can apply their findings on their farms. A scientist is valuable if his/her findings are in demand and can be practically implemented. American scientists work for specific tasks set by farmers and report to producers with actual results. For example, Randy Anderson, USDA ARS research agronomist— — focuses on developing low-input cropping systems based on crop diversity and rotation design However, recently he’s received a new task: to study organic farming. Based in Brookings, South Dakota Randy is developing new methods of soybean, corn and perennial grass production without pesticides, mineral fertilizers in a conservation farming environment, i.e. without soil disturbance.

Jay Fuhrer, USDA and Gabe Brown, Brown Ranch in Birmarck, North Dakota are renowned innovators in the field of cover crops! Gabe uses unbelievable mixes of cover crops on his fields, converting dead soils into fertile structured land. They shared a secret of how to make cover crop seed «cocktails» with us. First of all one needs to ask herself/himself: what do I want from cover crops? What’s the purpose of cover crops? If you want to break compaction, you need to seed tap-root crops. However, if you need to increase soil nitrogen level, seed legumes. If the aim is to increase organic matter level — seed grass crops, which have a nitrogen to carbon ratio higher than 1:20.

Rick Bieber — a successful No-till Systems farmer in Trail City, South Dakota— also shared his achievements with us, when we visited his fields.

Rick has been producing crops under No-Till technology for more than 20 years. He truly has achieved a level of crop production that he can be proud about! He deeply understands the issue of cover crops production and mychorrhizaedevelopment (a fungus that lives in symbiosis with field crops, e.g. corn, triticale, spring vetch and others and contributes to improvement of their nutrition, in other words — growth and yield).

Rick has an interesting experiment on restoration of gullies in fields. This is a two-year cycle. The bottom of the gully, where water is running off should be leveled at the width of 1.5 meters. Then, a crop with fibrous roots should be sown into this «runway». Next year a perennial crop with fibrous roots should be planted (do not ever use crops with a tap root!). Thus, you stop water flow and in the third year you’ll be able to plant commercial crops into this «anchored» plot.

When we visited USDA ARS (Mandan, North Dakota) Perry Miller, Professor of Cropping Systems at the University of Montana at Billings,Montana told us a lot of interesting things about chick-peas production; emphasizing that the ‘devil is in the detail’. It appears that fungicides are vitally important for chick-peas production, because they help to avoid blackleg epiphytoty problems, even if you did not experience this problem beforehand. Blackleg can be compared with a fire. When there is an outbreak the yield is totally lost, which was the case in North America in 2011. Many farmers planted chick-peas on large areas and the blackleg damaged the crop within several days. Farmers were not ready for this. We produce large-seed chick-peas at our farm (Private JSC «Agro-Soyuz») and we always spray chick-peas twice.

Besides, we met a lot of other people: Jason Miller, Agronomist USDA NRCS, Ruth Beck, South Dakota State University Extension Agronomist, , David Archer,research scientist,USDA ARS, Mandan, North Dakota Ralph Holzwarth, REH Farms, Gettysburg, South Dakota, successful No-till Systems Farmer, Dan Forgey,successful No-till Systems Farmer, Cronin Farms, Gettysburg, South Dakota.Wevisited the Lyon County Field Day in Emporia, Kansas conducted by Jill Clapperton,rhizosphere ecologist at Rhizoterra, Montana.We met with Dr.Ray Ward , Soil Scientist and founder of Ward Laboratories, Kearney, Nebraska and every time the meeting was useful and informative. When you see how others are working, you generate a lot of ideas that can be implemented at your farm!

I made a lot of discoveries during this trip, learned a lot of new stuff. On my return I shared my impressions with my colleagues — crop growers of Private JSC «Agro-Soyuz» — and we developed a plan of experiments. Private JSC «Agro-Soyuz» is the model agricultural enterprise, which has 12,000 hectares of cropped land and where new technologies of crop growing, livestock farming and management are being tested and adopted. Every year we test different elements of technologies, new crops and their influence on the next crop and water accumulation on our Scientific crop rotation field (300 ha).

The number one objective for us is to verify the results of American farmers’ experiments on our land and adapt them to our conditions; harvest 10 t/ha of wheat and corn; achieve new level of yield for sunflower and chick-peas.

I’ll share the results with you in spring.