(01/11/22) ALEXANDRIA, La. — Following a year of rising input costs and challenging weather conditions that complicated agricultural operations, farmers gathered for a crops and cattle forum Jan. 6 to hear from LSU AgCenter experts about what they can expect in 2022.
While it remains to be seen how this year’s weather pattern will pan out, it’s likely that prices for inputs such as fertilizer and herbicides will stay high. Farmers who attended the forum at the AgCenter Dean Lee Research and Extension Center near Alexandria were advised to prepare to adjust accordingly.
For example, glyphosate, one of the most commonly used herbicides, has been in short supply and become more expensive. Other products can be substituted, “but guys, we have to lower our expectations for this treatment,” AgCenter weed scientist Daniel Stephenson told the group.
“We don’t realize how glyphosate catches a lot of problems that we don’t think about. The number of weeds that our growers in Louisiana face this time of year is startling,” he said. Obscure weeds normally taken out by glyphosate may pop up in fields where alternative herbicides have to be used.
When it comes to getting one’s hands on glyphosate, farmers have some options, Stephenson said. There are 63 formulations of glyphosate on the market, plus several premixed products that have glyphosate as an ingredient.
“The LSU AgCenter has not evaluated all 63 formulations, so this is not an endorsement of all of them,” he cautioned. “I just wanted to let producers know what is available.”
Shortages of glufosinate, atrazine, S-metolachlor and other herbicides also have been reported. Farmers may have to purchase different brands of these products than what they are used to.
Different herbicide formulations are meant for use on different crops and at different concentrations. Reading the product label thoroughly is critical when switching to an unfamiliar alternative, Stephenson said.
The best way to combat supply issues and high prices is to make applications count, Stephenson said. Products should be applied in ideal weather conditions at correct rates using correct droplet sizes. Also, he said, early treatments applied to small weeds are much more effective than those sprayed on weeds that were allowed to grow larger.
These are practices that should be followed every year, he said, but especially this year.
Supply chain issues are affecting other aspects of agriculture. The seed supply for wheat has been short, causing some growers to buy varieties that are not as well suited to local conditions as their usual choices, said Boyd Padgett, AgCenter wheat specialist and plant pathologist.
Wheat requires three to six weeks at temperatures between 32 and 45 degrees Fahrenheit to complete a process called vernalization. The exact number of chill hours varies by variety, so it’s important to be aware of the differing requirements, Padgett said.
Because of high prices, farmers should make the most of their nitrogen fertilizer applications, he said. In wheat, split applications — applying some fertilizer and saving the rest to put out later — are recommended to reduce the risk of losing nitrogen to heavy rainfall and can help producers get the most bang for their buck.
With any crop, choosing adapted varieties resistant to diseases can help prevent problems and reduce the need for fungicides, Padgett said. Data that can help with variety selection are generated by AgCenter scientists every year and can be found online at https://bit.ly/3F9lj9L.
At a time when maximizing profits is especially important, producers should carefully consider whether replanting soybean fields is worthwhile, said AgCenter soybean specialist David Moseley.
Last year, producers contended with wet weather at planting, causing some soybean stands to experience poor emergence. Farmers sometimes replant the field if they end up with a low plant population. But according to data that Moseley showed at the forum, replanting often does not make a significant difference in final yields, so the practice is not always economical.
Despite the early-season challenges and wet conditions continuing through early summer, Moseley said, 2021 soybean yields turned out to be about the same as in 2020.
Moseley also discussed a national study of foliar fertilizers applied in the absence of signs of nutrient deficiencies. If there are no deficiency symptoms, these products don’t do much for yields and cut profitability, he said.
The cattle portion of the forum included presentations on pasture weeds and growth implants.
AgCenter weed scientist Ron Strahan said ensuring that both forages and soils in pastures are healthy can keep weed problems at bay. Low fertility and compacted soils can result in pastures that are overgrazed, giving weeds an advantage.
Controlling weeds is important because they compete with forage crops, and some are even toxic to livestock, Strahan said. Some examples are butterweed, buttercup, sicklepod, lantana and perilla mint.
Effective herbicide options are available, but prevention — monitoring soil health and keeping fencerows clean — is the better strategy, he said.
AgCenter animal scientist Ashley Edwards discussed growth implants in suckling and growing beef cattle. The implants are pellets containing steroids that are placed in animals’ ears between the skin and cartilage.
Some livestock producers hesitate to use implants over concerns about profitability and consumer opinion.
“There’s a lot of questions about what goes into our livestock,” Edwards said. “This is probably one of the most economically advantageous tools you can use in beef cattle production, depending on your market.”
The event concluded with a pesticide applicator recertification class.