Crop production advice featured at consultants meeting

Richard Bogren, Schultz, Bruce  |  2/14/2015 3:51:07 AM

News Release Distributed 02/13/15

MARKSVILLE, La. – More than 30 LSU AgCenter experts joined with industry representatives to provide information and advice to Louisiana agricultural consultants who met at their annual conference on Feb. 11-13.

Presentations covered crop varieties and hybrids, management practices, pesticides and new technologies on a variety of crops, including cotton, corn, soybeans, grain sorghum, sugarcane and rice.

Pollinating insects are important to the successful production of fruits and vegetables, said LSU AgCenter entomologist Sebe Brown. The most common pollinators are bees, and the United States in general has seen a noticeable decline in pollinators in the past 10 years.

The AgCenter has joined with other organizations to establish the Louisiana Pollinator Cooperative Conservation Program to equally represent beekeepers and fruit and vegetable crop producers as well as agricultural commodity growers who don’t depend on pollinators.

The program emphasizes education and stewardship recommendations through open and active communication, Brown said.

One example, he said, is the “Bee Aware” flag developed in Mississippi and adopted throughout the Midsouth to allow beekeepers to identify the locations of their hives to pesticide applicators and others so they are aware of them.

Beekeepers and landowners have to consult to determine where hives are located, Brown said. “It’s important that people need to know.”

“We can’t regulate, but we can make recommendations,” Brown said.

Cover crops can contribute to soil fertility, said AgCenter soil scientist Josh Lofton. A cover crop with no added nitrogen can produce a 10-bushel to 50-bushel corn yield increase, depending on the cover crop and the growing season.

“Most cover crops increased yield over fallow the past two years,” Lofton said, emphasizing “most.” “On corn, you’re not going to be able to get by with no nitrogen. A cover crop does not guarantee a yield increase.”

Lofton reviewed choices for cover crops, which cover bare ground during the winter season to reduce erosion as well as contribute to soil health and fertility.

“A cover crop is a crop; it has to be managed,” he said. “But we need to terminate them in time to assure the ‘green bridge’ is broken.” The green bridge is a term used to denote the continued presence of growing vegetation that harbors insects.

One new problem facing Louisiana farmers is the presence of the sugarcane aphid in grain sorghum.

The pest showed up in sorghum in Louisiana in 2013, said AgCenter entomologist David Kerns. “It has tremendous reproduction capacity. It stunts growth; reduces seeds; sterilizes the head.”

The aphid is a problem “from the time it comes out of the ground until the time you pull the combine into the field,” he said.

Kerns’ advice to the consultants and their farmer clients is to choose hybrids with resistance or tolerance.

Some resistant hybrids are available, he said. “The future looks bright as far as host plant resistance is concerned.”

Cotton yields continue to increase even as acreage declines, said AgCenter cotton specialist Dan Fromme.

Fromme reviewed trends in cotton quality as well as results from yield trials both in grower fields and AgCenter plots.

“The state of cotton varieties now is very good,” he said. “We have a lot of good varieties to pick from.”

A producer’s choice of cotton variety will influence his use of new chemicals that are compatible with the variety, AgCenter weed scientist Donnie Miller said.

Two new technologies – Enlist and Xtend – are coming to the market, and each has particular characteristics.

“Control will be very similar when you use a program with other residual herbicides,” Miller said.

AgCenter plant pathologist Clayton Hollier said propiconazole fungicide is the only preventive treatment for Cercospora. Timing of application depends on planting date, he said. Early-planted rice should be treated early to late boot stage, he said, while later-planted rice should be sprayed from panicle initiation to early boot.

Later-planted rice is more susceptible to the disease in the earlier stages because more spores are found in the fields, he explained.

AgCenter plant pathologist Don Groth said propiconazole has the best activity against smut diseases in rice also.

Timing for smut is different from Cercospora, he said, so a grower may have to decide which disease is the biggest threat to a crop before deciding when to spray. Smut applications should be done between boot stage to heading, he said.

AgCenter rice specialist Dustin Harrell said his research has shown that mowing rice stubble after harvest to an 8-inch height produces the highest second crop yields, and it also promotes uniform growth and consistent grain moisture.

Fertilizer for a second crop should be applied at a rate of 90 pounds of nitrogen per acre, if harvest is before Aug. 15. But as a rule of thumb, the amount nitrogen should be reduced by six pounds a day after Aug. 15, he said.

Fungicides are of no benefit for a second crop, he said, and mowed stubble holds less disease inoculum.

Zinc deficiency usually occurs in soils with pH higher than 7, Harrell said. It’s believed now that a plant that doesn’t get enough zinc will absorb higher concentrations of other metals, such as iron and aluminum, and that’s what actually kills the plant.

Harrell said Arkansas farmers are expected to grow even more medium-grain rice this year because of the drop in California acres anticipated from an ongoing drought. He said he would be reluctant to plant medium-grain this year without a contract.

“I’m hearing there are some contracts for medium but not as many as there was early in 2014,” he said.

Final figures for Louisiana rice production in 2014 show 1,040 farmers grew rice in 29 parishes on 456,000 acres with an average yield of 7,539 pounds per acre and a total value of $670 million.

Invasive species – non-native plants, animals and insects – are a major problem in Louisiana, and more are probably on the way, said AgCenter entomologist, Rodrigo Diaz. They include kudzu bugs, crape myrtle bark scale, spotted wing drosophila, tropical spiderwort and giant salvinia.

“Once established, they’re difficult to eradicate,” Diaz said. Options for control include mechanical, chemical and biological, he said.

In addition to invasive species, feral hogs also are plaguing landowners across the country, said AgCenter researcher Glen Gentry. They’re a cross between escapees from domestic herds that were brought to this country by immigrants and Eurasian boars that were imported for hunting.

“Feral hogs are extremely hard to manage with too few tools,” Gentry said. The Louisiana agriculture department estimates an average of 10 feral hogs per square mile. Not only are they highly reproductive, they also lack natural predators.

Gentry is working with collaborators in the AgCenter to develop a bait containing sodium nitrite. The toxicant has to be target specific, have public acceptance and result in a humane death.

Early research has established treatment levels that are toxic to hogs but not to humans, he said. The next step is to develop an effective delivery system that will assure the bait only reaches feral hogs.

AgCenter engineer Randy Price talked about his work to develop a yield monitor for sugarcane. His goal is to design a system that’s easy to calibrate, maintains calibration for an extended time and is tough enough to withstand the rigors of field use.

The system uses lasers to measure stalks through the harvester with readings every three seconds. ”We’re getting better every year bringing down the error rate,” Price said.

Price also is beginning work on a new whole-stalk sugarcane planter.

The value of burning sugarcane residue has more than a $120 million contribution to the Louisiana economy, said AgCenter economist Mike Salassi.

The economics of sugarcane burning are based on reducing transportation costs, reducing processing costs, reducing sugar recovery losses and reducing future crop yield losses, Salassi said.

Based on the crop years 2011-2013, that adds up to more than $120 million. “Any practice that can add to the local economy benefits everybody,” he said.

Every dollar invested in the AgCenter produces more than $35 in the state’s economy, Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry commissioner Mike Strain said.

“We have to invest in those things that return on the investment,” Strain said. “We must advance and invest in the greatest industry in the state – agriculture.”

Science, technology and innovation are important to the state’s agriculture, he said. It’s important to get science into the hands of the farmer in real time.

The role of the LSU AgCenter is getting that information to the growers, said Bill Richardson, LSU vice president for agriculture and dean of the LSU College of Agriculture.

The AgCenter is taking the looming state budget cuts “very seriously,” Richardson said. “This will be a very, very difficult year.”

Although he said he doesn’t think the cut to the AgCenter will be 35 percent, “We’re going to be here, but smaller and leaner.”

Rick Bogren
Bruce Schultz
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