Scientists work to enhance fertility and nutrient management

Frances Gould, Schultz, Bruce  |  8/14/2015 11:54:59 PM

Beatrix Haggard, LSU AgCenter upland crops fertility specialist, is participating in a number of studies to improve field corn and soybean yields.

One of those projects is evaluating the use of products to enhance nitrogen efficiency for field corn. Some of the materials are intended to prevent the conversion of nitrogen after rainfall, and the heavy rains of the spring of 2015 provided a good chance to conduct those tests. She said the project started by pumping water on a field to simulate a 6- to 8-inch rain. "We applied the flood and we still got rain," she said. "The ground was very saturated."

Haggard also is working on an omissions study to determine what practices could be included, eliminated or minimized on field corn and soybeans without sacrificing yields. Her partners on the project are Josh Lofton, agronomist; David Kerns, entomologist; and Trey Price, plant pathologist.

In the test, two primary management systems are evaluated – high management and standard management. This year the high management system for soybeans received a premium seed treatment, two fungicide applications, a premium insecticide regiment, inoculum and sulfur. The standard management for soybeans received untreated seed, one fungicide application, a standard insecticide regiment, no inoculum and no sulfur.

Other plots within the trial receive different combinations of these treatments to determine the value of each individual management practice and the value of all the management practices together. Haggard said all of the plots are at the Macon Ridge Research Station in Winnsboro.

"It is important to know if that extra seed treatment or one more fungicide application will actually pay off at the end of the season,"

Haggard said. Haggard also is reviewing the results of soil tests, comparing fertilizer recommendations from five different labs in the South. Soil samples were obtained from research stations and commercial fields in Louisiana. This project will allow producers and consultants to be more knowledgeable when using recommendations.

Brenda Tubaña, LSU AgCenter soil fertility specialist, is working on a project to determine if the proper amount of silicon in the soil protects plants from disease. She said the 2014-15 wheat crop provided a good chance to test whether wheat plants are more susceptible to disease when silicon levels are below recommended levels and whether silicon plays a role in suppressing disease progression.

"Just like a human, if a plant receives a balanced amount of nutrients, it is less likely to get sick," she said. "In the end, what we really want is to reduce the use of fungicides."

She also is studying recommended levels for potassium and phosphorus for corn and soybeans in rotation. She said current recommendations for the nutrients are established for crops that are repeatedly grown on the same field. But, she said, it’s possible that more potassium is needed for corn planted after a soybean crop.
Bruce Schultz

Editor’s note: Since this report was published, both Beatrix Haggard and Josh Lofton have relocated to Oklahoma State University in Stillwater. We appreciate the contributions they have made to the agricultural industry in Louisiana.

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