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Are We Getting the Most from Our Alfalfa Ground?

Monday, June 13th, 2011

By: Jeff Stevens, CCA, IFA Garland, UT

The Intermountain West is probably the premier area of the country for quality alfalfa hay production. But are we getting the most out of our ground when it is in alfalfa?  During the last four years the alfalfa committee of IFA has been involved in grower level testing programs to identify programs, products and management techniques to increase the yield and the quality of alfalfa hay. It has been a seemingly daunting task. But as they say “The best way to eat an Elephant is one bite at a time.” So here are a series of tips and products that when added together may help you increase the yield and quality of your alfalfa hay.

   The best place to start a good hay program is at the end of a stand’s life when it is ready to be rotated out. This is a good time to have your IFA Crop Consultant identify weed and disease problems that may have shortened stand life. This is also the best time to address perennial weeds like canadian thistle, dandelion and quackgrass. There is no better time to kill these weeds and the alfalfa, than to spray the stand with Round-Up 48 hours before it is to be cut for the last time. This is the best timing to get the maximum kill on deep-rooted perennial weeds and to kill the alfalfa as well. After the hay has been baled and removed from the field, deep tillage with a heavy disc or a moldboard plow will disrupt the roots and prevent them from reestablishing. The ground is now ready to be rotated into a different crop like corn, wheat or beans. A two year rest from alfalfa is also a good idea in order to break disease, pest and weed problems. This is especially true when fighting deep-rooted perennial weeds that may take more than one attempt to control.

   A soil test prior to planting the next crop is recommended since it can identify nutrients that have been used heavily by the hay crop, such as phosphorus and potassium, and also measure nutrients left behind, like nitrogen. Since many of IFA’s field men are Certified Crop Advisors, they can help to interpret a complete soil test and use it to construct a well-balanced fertility program for any crop. A good soil-testing program over time is also a valuable tool for tracking trends like salt build up that may require amendment programs such as gypsum, elemental sulfur or humic acid.

   Most of our western soils are high in free lime and do a great job of tying up phosphorus and the micronutrients that alfalfa requires for maximum hay production. IFA has several phosphorus fertilizers that are designed to combat this problem. For those who prefer a dry fertilizer program, 11-52-0 with Avail has been shown to keep phosphorus more available for a longer period of time. For those who would like to take the next step into a liquid program, we offer two high quality liquid fertilizers, Structure with organic acids and Progerminator, which uses a proprietary chelating technology. Both can be used as the primary phosphorus source, or applied between cuttings to enhance a Fall applied dry fertilizer program. One of the most promising fertilizer programs initiated by IFA is one from Cache Valley using the liquid fertilizer, Structure. By applying Structure 3 times, first with an herbicide applied during the dormant period, followed by another application at insecticide time, and another at 3rd crop, this program is achieving consistent 8-ton yields.

   Since alfalfa is a multi-year crop, controlling weeds seem to be a perennial problem. From eliminating volunteer cereals in new seeding alfalfa to killing quackgrass in older stands, IFA has several chemicals to keep your hay stands clean and productive. For new seeding fields, Raptor will control many grasses and broadleaf weeds. For those fields where volunteer cereals or cheat grass is the main problem, Section does an admiral job of controlling annual grasses. Once the alfalfa is established, Velpar Alfamax can be used to keep the stand clean and productive. In the last year of the stand, metribuzin can be used with no carryover concerns. Finally the stand can be sprayed out 36-72 hours before cutting with RoundUp. As with all of IFA’s products and programs, your local IFA Crop Advisor has helpful tips for your local area.

      Quality alfalfa seed is the foundation of a strong stand of hay. The National Alfalfa Alliance rates an alfalfa variety’s ability to withstand 14 different diseases and insects, from susceptible to highly resistant. Choosing a variety that can stand up to the onslaught of Mother Nature is a step towards a healthier and longer lasting stand. The varieties offered by IFA are chosen for their resistance to diseases and insects in the Intermountain West. All IFA varieties are pre-inoculated for proper nodulation, but they can also be ordered as a coated seed. Seeds can be coated with a gypsum-based coating that can improve germination and seedling health, but do need to be planted within a year of being coated.  IFA will also bring to market a new generation conventional alfalfa seed later this year.

Round Up Ready Alfalfa is now available in our market.  We have several varieties that will fit well in all markets that Intermountain Farmers services.  Please contact your local crop advisor for the variety that will fit best in your area.

   Insects are not always a problem everywhere, and don’t necessarily occur every year, but when they do show up their effect can be devastating. With the loss of Furadan insecticide at the end of 2009, bug control has become a greater challenge. Insects can be classified by how they damage the plant, do they chew the foliage or suck the juices. Choosing the proper insecticide to control each type of bug is essential to achieving satisfactory control, and it may be necessary to mix two types of insecticide together to control all the damaging insects with one application. Cobalt insecticide is an example that controls both sucking and chewing insects. Since many insecticides are restricted use chemicals, talk to your IFA professional for guidance, and always read and follow the label for proper rates and pre-harvest requirements.

    There are more acres devoted to the production of irrigated alfalfa in the Intermountain West than any other crop. It may also be the most neglected. But just like eating an elephant, advances begin with small, affordable steps in the right direction. Your local IFA Crop Consultant is ready with many products and management programs to help your alfalfa crop become a more productive and profitable part of your operation.

Organic acids and why you should be using them

Tuesday, January 19th, 2010

Tom Sharp, CCA, Lewiston, UT

There has been a lot of interest in organic acids and their use in agriculture during recent years. These organic acids are derived from ancient deposits of organic matter that have had millions of years to decompose. The organic matter is decomposed much more than the humus that is so desirable in our soils. This dark brown to black product is often found near coal deposits in the earths crust and originated as peat, brown coal, soil, or leonardite. At the molecular level it is an extremely large and complex molecule with no specifically identifiable structure. Organic acids can be broken down into three different parts: humic, fulvic, and humin.

Humic acid is the most commonly available form of organic acid and contains humic, fulvic and humin fractions. This is usually the raw product that has been mined, crushed and screened for proper size. The name humic “acid” is actually a misnomer because it has pH of 11 or higher. Most lawn and garden professionals will refer to humic acid as “humate”. It comes in a dry granular form as well as liquid. Dry humic can be added to most dry fertilizer blends at a rate of 20 – 40 pounds per acre. When blended with dry phosphate fertilizer, humic attracts microbes to the prills and enhances degradation of the waxy protective coating. This speeds up the rate at which the nutrients become available for plant use. Humic also acts like a chelating agent to protect phosphate from being tied up in the soil. This happens because humic has an enormous number of binding sites where nutrients can attach themselves and are protected until needed by a plant.

Liquid humic is commonly added to liquid nitrogen (UAN 32) or to liquid phosphate (10-34-0). UAN 32 is a very popular fertilizer used to top-dress winter wheat in northern Utah and Southern Idaho. The addition of humic to the fertilizer will minimize burning of the leaves and reduce the amount of nitrogen that can volatilize. It is not uncommon to use over 80 available units of nitrogen with the addition of humic on irrigated winter wheat. This is normally done as early as possible in the spring and usually in conjunction with an herbicide application using a ground rig.

Fulvic acid is truly acidic, having a pH below 7 and is relatively easy to extract from the raw humic. It is usually a clear to amber colored liquid and the actual percent fulvic can vary between manufacturers. Several herbicides and foliar nutrients respond well to additions of fulvic to the spray tank. Fulvic is normally very active in the plant and the soil but is only a small percentage of the overall humic.

Humins are the most difficult to extract but are the most stable in the soil and provide more direct plant activity than fulvic. Since they are so difficult to extract, the best way to apply humin to the soil is by using the full humic acid in its raw form.

Organic acids benefit the soil by increasing the water holding capacity, adding stable organic matter to the soil, and increasing the nutrient holding capacity. When added directly to the nutrients being applied, organic acids increase efficiency and protect the environment. In extensive research done by the University of Idaho, organic acids were shown to provide an economic return to growers in almost every trial.

Make The Most of Your Fertilizer Dollar

Tuesday, January 19th, 2010

By Krea Mecham, CCA, IFA Crop Advisor, Cedar City, UT.

As you know fertilizer prices are very volatile, we at Intermountain Farmers Association are committed to providing our customers the most effective use of nutrient dollars possible. I would like to offer some suggestions on how to accomplish this goal in alfalfa production:

1. Soil test- know what the nutrient level is in each field. Our plants require balanced nutrition for optimum growth. If you have only been applying phosphorus on your fields, your fields could be adequate in phosphorus. The limiting nutrient for increased production might be potassium or sulfur.

2. Keep records of each field; know what you applied last year. Remember that soil test readings are a measure of how available each nutrient is to the plant. Each field has different characteristics that make the nutrients applied more or less available to the plant. Use this history to help decide the nutrients and rates to apply to each field. Remember the four “R’s”: the Right nutrients, the Right rate, at the Right time, in the Right place.

3. Find ways to increase the availability of the phosphorus. Phosphorus is the least efficient of all the major nutrients we apply to our fields. Provide adequate levels of phosphorus in the soil. Make sure your micronutrient levels are adequate. Low levels of certain micronutrients can cause a decrease in phosphorus uptake. IFA can add humic and fulvic acids to phosphorus, which help prevent lime from tying up the applied phosphorus. Make foliar applications of liquid phosphorus when applying weed sprays or insecticides. Apply liquid phosphorus in water run applications through center pivots.

IFA has introduced two new products to help with phosphorus efficiency:

“Avail” is a product developed by Specialty Fertilizer Company that we use to coat the phosphorus dry prill. “Avail” has a tremendous negative charge that attracts the free floating positively charged calcium and sodium particles in the soil, thus making the applied phosphorus more available to the plant, keeping them from binding with applied phosphorus. “Avail” has been on the market for about ten years, but until fertilizer prices increased to current levels, the economic return was not there.

“Alfa-Boost” is liquid phosphorus based fertilizer developed by IFA for foliar and water run applications. “Alfa-Boost” has ingredients that make phosphorus more available to the plant. “Alfa-Boost” was designed specifically for alfalfa production in the intermountain area.

4. Split applications of potassium. Alfalfa will consume more potassium at one time than it needs.

5. Work with the IFA crop consultant in your area to develop a plan for your farm or ranch.

5 Guidelines for a Successful Foliar Feeding

Tuesday, January 19th, 2010

Submitted by: Brett Harman, IFA Agronomy Purchasing Manager With permission and Information provided from: Cory Schurman, Agro Culture Liquid Fertilizers

Foliar feeding of nutrients is very successful when general application guidelines are followed.

Responsible Nutrient management utilizes products and application methods that give applied nutrients maximum efficiency.

For a nutrient solution to work when foliar-applied, it’s necessary to have a low salt index. When products have a salt index above 10, they usually cause leaf tissue damage or give a plasmolysis reaction that results in plant cell damage and cell collapse.

Making applications with high salt index products result in browning, burning or speckling on the leaves and stems. When these types of reactions happen, nutrients are not easily absorbed into the growing crop, offering little or no results.

IFA uses products that have low salt indexes. We can foliar feed a crop in season and achieve consistent and positive results.

A combination of nutrients are usually recommended after a review of tissue analysis, known soil deficiencies and crop uptake needs, as well as visual observations during the season.

The grower and IFA crop advisors take that information and develop a combination of nutrients that best address the crops requirements and give the best results.

For best results when foliar feeding, there are some basic rules that should be followed to provide the best opportunity for positive, consistent results.

1. Temperature — Plants will begin to close the stomatal openings or curl the leaf at 87 F. This is done naturally so a plant does not transpire as much water during the heat of the day.

Applying the nutrient solution before that temperature is reached gives the grower the best chance of overcoming the normal plant physiological functions. Plants can better absorb nutrients when the temperature is below 87F.

2. Salt Index — Whatever products are foliar fed, spray solutions should have a salt index of 10 or less. Application of IFA low salt index products will result in an osmotic absorption, which is quick, clean and complete absorption of nutrients into plant tissue without tissue damage. This gives the grower the best chance of achieving positive results.

3. Humidity — Humidity levels vary greatly across the United States. Utah has very low levels of humidity compared to the Midwest.

Higher humidity levels will help overcome leaf curling and stomatal closing, which also allows the nutrient solution to perform better and be more completely assimilated into the plant.

4. Sunlight — For best results when foliar feeding, plants need to be metabolizing and growing. This happens during photosynthesis.

For best results, applications should be made during the day so that the plant can absorb the nutrient solution, providing the best opportunity for positive results.

5. Droplet Size — Apply nutrient solutions with good atomization and small droplets. There are several spray tips available that will accomplish this. Whatever tip you choose, it’s best to have the pressure calibrated to at least 40 psi with the best results being achieved at more than 60 psi.

One thing to remember when foliar feeding is that a large percentage of stomatal openings are on the underside of the leaf. Applying solutions that coat both sides of the leaf will give the best chance of obtaining positive results.

When growers determine crop nutrient needs and make applications with the above guidelines, they will have the best chance to increase yields and overcome stress. Foliar feeding then becomes a valuable management tool that the grower can use to supply nutrients to a growing crop.

If you have questions about foliar feeding or need help putting together product mixes, talk with your local IFA certified crop advisor to determine the right combination and timing.

Hook As Seen by the IFA Crop Advisor

Tuesday, January 19th, 2010

hook

During the past growing season Hook has been used successfully by many IFA field agronomists with various agricultural materials on a variety of crops throughout Utah and parts of Idaho. Because Hook is a new material, the IFA crop advisors have taken a very close look at it and many of them have had a great experience adding Hook to their spray program.

Randy Grover in Garland has used Hook with grain herbicides such as 2-4-D and Harmony Extra. He believes that the over all weed control was improved by using Hook especially with the Yellow and Purple Mustard (Mustard blue Chorispora tenella). In years past he has had good results with most weed control except for the mustard family. This year the control was very evident compared to past years due to the absence of mustard. Some of his growers have asked what he did to improve the weed control this year. Their fields were cleaner and did not have the typical break through weeds. The only change Randy made was using Hook. He was very pleased to get the control that he has wanted.

The Spanish Fork Agronomy Center has been using Hook in their Ro-Gator throughout Utah County both this year and last. Spanish Fork crop advisors work with a large number of alfalfa, corn, and grain growers, and spray many acres with Roundup, Velpar and Weedar 64 (2-4-D). Due to the continual population growth of Utah County and new residential neighbors, Spanish Fork applicators are very careful not to let the spray materials leave the fields they are treating. When Hook is added to the spray tank it enhances the activity of the spray material, gives great weed control, reduces drift, and the potential for unhappy neighbors. Hook is a product that gives real results.

Dan Madsen is the Manager at the Uintah Basin Agronomy Center in Roosevelt, Utah. Last year Dan sold more Hook than any of the other IFA salesmen. Whenever he needs a surfactant Dan uses Hook. He believes that Hook improves the activity of the materials in the tank with either herbicides or insecticides. Dan will admit that he has not done a side by side “Test” with other surfactants, however, when he uses Hook the control of either weeds or insects has been up to what the growers demand (perfection).

Hook is a new generation surfactant that improves the deposition and activity of the spray material on the surface of the plant, helps reduce the number of fine particles in the spray pattern and gives a more even coverage and less loss due to drift and runoff while spraying. Hook will improve the activity of most chemicals.

Hook is manufactured by IFA in Garland, UT. Intermountain Farmers is very excited to offer this product to the wonderful growers who purchase agronomy products at IFA. Please contact your local IFA crop advisor for more information about this product.

REMEMBER: ALWAYS ADD HOOK LAST TO YOUR TANK MIX