Agronomy Talk

Agronomy Update

Introducing Your New Beck's Missouri Agronomist

Published on Thursday, April 16, 2015

Hello, I’m David Hughes, your new Beck’s agronomist in Missouri. I wanted to take the time to introduce myself to the Beck’s family of employees, dealers and customers, and especially to Missouri farmers whom I now have opportunity to serve as a Beck’s agronomist. I am grateful for the opportunity to be a part of a company that shares my passion and love of God, family, our country, and farming.

I have worked as an agronomist in Missouri since 1991 and a practicing Certified Crop Advisor (CCA) since 1996. I have also enjoyed opportunities working as a research associate with nitrogen management and agricultural systems research at the University of Missouri; a site-specific crop management agronomist and manager for a large regional supply cooperative; and as an independent crop adviser to many Missouri farmers.

I recently married my beautiful wife, Tandy, with a combined total of 9 children between us ranging in ages from 10 to 25. Three of our adult children are serving in the U.S. Armed Forces and three others are pursuing their passions in equally worthwhile endeavors. I personally had the privilege to serve in the United States Naval Reserves. Our three youngest boys are still in high school and are avid baseball players. We are a baseball family with an internal “I-70 series” going on daily this time of year, with Cardinals and Royals fans eating at the same dinner table. Our family is grateful for each other and all of our blessings from a loving Father in Heaven. We look forward to being part of the Beck’s family and to serving Missouri farmers.

 

PERSPECTIVE IN LIFE
While serving as a full-time missionary in the metropolis of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 1984-85, I frequently encountered young children peddling small packets of candy and gum to passers-by. I was one of those passers-by and would often make a purchase, take my treat and keep walking. Sometimes I would find the encounters slightly irritating if I had to get to an appointment quickly and didn’t want to be stopped in an already crowded environment. Also, many times I could see the men or “users” of the children close-by—obvious signs of substance abuse—eager to take the money from the child for their own use.

There was one encounter with a particular child I shall never forget. I was approached by a young girl in a tattered gray dress. Her hair was curly, dirty, and matted. Her face was covered with sweat and dust. She had no shoes and obvious sores on her feet and legs. She was very beautiful yet looked very worn and sad. She handed out the small packet of chiclet gum. I handed her more money than the gum was worth. She smiled faintly, said “obrigado” (thank you), and walked away. I looked to see where she was headed knowing for certain she would give the money to some undeserving adult who would use it for self-gratification. It made me so angry inside I decided to follow her. I wasn’t letting that happen this time.

My companion and I followed her for what seemed like an hour….up, up, up. The farther uphill you go in Rio, the poorer and more dangerous it gets. The slums or “favelas” are at the high elevations of the city on steep, eroded soil. We passed open sewer, impoverished children, sick men and women lying on concrete or dirt, and finally arrived at our destination. The girl had entered a very small shack with scrap wood and tin siding and a dirt floor. We stood outside the broken door and clapped (In Brazil you clap outside of a door rather than knock). The small girl opened the door, recognized me, and offered to let us in. Lying on the dirt floor was her mother (who was very sick and malnourished) with two younger children playing with what looked like old marbles on the floor.

Needless to say my perspective and point of reference immediately changed. The anger I felt inside, knowing for certain I would find some man who would use the money for alcohol or drugs, instantly changed to compassion and the desire to help my new young friend and her family’s plight.

I believe that perspective is everything in life. We are bombarded daily with information and input on which we act and make decisions. I believe it is critical to look at information from different points of reference in order to act and decide accurately.

PERSPECTIVE IN AGRONOMY
Agronomists are often called on to evaluate fields to diagnose deficiencies, diseases, pest and/or chemical damage, crop health, and to make accurate recommendations on how to prevent or mitigate damage or promote and restore crop health. We find it highly useful to gain different points of reference on the same problem. For example, we may look at a wheat plant in a field with a magnifying lens and then go climb a grain bin so we can look at the same field and area in question from a higher elevation. Both points of reference help us more accurately diagnose the problem at hand and make accurate recommendations.

To wrap up, I will offer you a different point of reference on two recent Missouri agronomy scenarios:

The 2012 Drought
The 2012 season was a rough production year. The lack of rainfall began in the fall of 2011 and continued into 2012 resulting in one of the worst drought years we had experienced in Missouri farming. Yields were half or less of what we had experienced the 4-5 years prior. None of us were very excited about yields that year!

As an agronomist who works with combine yield data, I realized that despite the disappointment, 2012 had produced one of the most valuable datasets I had ever seen. Yield maps for 2012 were the best, high-resolution soil type maps I had ever had access to. I ground-truthed many 2012 yield maps in the field and found them to be highly accurate predictors of soil productivity regions that could be used as predictive management zones for seeding rate, nitrogen, and hybrid placement recommendations. So if you were one of the “lucky” farmers to go through the 2012 drought and have access to your 2012 yield data, get it out and take a look! You will be amazed at how accurately it depicts soil changes on your farm at a very high resolution. I use 2012 yield data to refine my development of field management zones and to more accurately prescribe seed and fertilizer recommendations.

                     

The 2014 Wet Fall and Winter and No Anhydrous Ammonia Applied.
There are areas in the Beck’s Missouri territory where no nitrogen (N) has been applied yet, causing logistical frustration. Here are two main factors that make managing N fertilizer difficult:

1. N is vulnerable to loss from crop fields during wet weather and when loss occurs, this size of the loss is difficult to estimate.
2. Soil organic matter contains a very large pool of N. It is difficult to predict how much of this pool will be available to the crop.

The vast majority of N fertilizer is applied before the crop is planted, two to seven months before corn uptake and metabolism. If wet weather occurs during this period, the N may be lost. This can and has had major impact on crop yields in Missouri in wet years. Dr. Peter Scharf, State Soil Fertility Extension Specialist at the University of Missouri, has taught for years that if we get 16 in. of rainfall in Missouri between April 1 and the V6-V8 growth stage of corn (when accelerated N uptake and metabolism occur), the risk of yield-limiting N loss on fields where all of the N was applied in the fall is very high. Fields where N is pre-plant applied much closer to planting and/or side-dressed before this maximum N uptake period are much less at risk for yield-limiting losses.

So, although we are frustrated to not have all of our N application work completed, the blessing in disguise may be that applying N closer to planting and corn N uptake will result in less N loss and improved fertilizer N use efficiency! Time will tell.

I hope everyone has a great week and I look forward to working with you this growing season!






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