Better Starts for Middle River Wheat

October 25, 2019

by Michael Steeke, Regional Sales Agronomist MN & ND

In the middle of July, a farmer in Middle River, MN, texted QLF’s Regional Sales Agronomist Michael Steeke a screenshot of a satellite image from one of his wheat fields. Farmer Joe Melby mentioned that something was going on in this field.  NDVI (Normalized Difference Vegetation Index) technology picked up a line in the field where he turned off his liquid starter, L-CBF 7-21-3 MKP.

A week later the local QLF dealer Ross Waage brought Michael and area QLF feed representative Curt Lahr to his customer’s field to investigate the crop formation.  The plan was to fly a drone over the same field to capture a more detailed view of the image found with the Farmers Edge satellite.  After just a few passes perpendicular to the planting direction and pattern, instantly a change in the field could be seen from the drone. The NDVI map created from images recorded by the drone mirrored that of the farmer’s satellite image.

To investigate the crop more closely the crew marched toward the approximate middle of the field where the line easily appeared in images looking from above.  Even with the NDVI maps in hand, they couldn’t easily find the line in the field standing on the ground.  With the help of the drone’s view and vantage point they zeroed in using the GPS coordinates and counting sprayer tracks from the field’s edge.  Michael’s drone surveillance finally lead them to the spot after several efforts to scout and search from the ground.   Although the views from above and maps generated showed the mystery line, no obvious height or color differences could be measured until after harvesting whole plants.  The treated side clearly had 3 inches on height and some very detailed differences after further evaluation.  The control was not only shorter but these plants demonstrated less potential for yield.  The L-CBF treated side had more kernels per head and more tillers that likely contributed to the images.  The NDVI visual did pick up more photosynthetically active biomass (more living vegetation and less deficiency).  Clearly, the line found in the images was real, but would that affect yields?

Farmer Joe Melby explained the field was planned for soybeans typically following corn and fall applications of dry P&K put on appropriately.  As what often happens in farming plans change.  Next spring the field was switched over to spring wheat.  Joe’s opinion was, “this field was under fertilized for wheat in regards to P&K since it was planned for soybeans.”  Since this field was planted later than normal for wheat and missing some groceries, he decided to further trial his liquid starter at 5 gallons per acre and let the product run out.  About half the field did not receive a liquid starter in-furrow.  This was the only trial in the field; everything else remained the same including seed variety, population, and both sides had the same preplant and in-season nitrogen applications.

Just a couple weeks after scouting the Middle River spring wheat, Joe had combined the field and discovered a significant difference in yield of +15 bushels.  The yield map matched up perfectly with the other NDVI images taken from both drones and space. What was more astonishing was how even the treated side of the field grew up and finished. “The crop was so consistent coming in the combine where the L-CBF 7-21-3 MKP starter was applied,” he observed.  Most larger air seeders utilize dry fertilizer, but Joe’s was set up for liquid in-furrow.  With the right start working in concert with biology more and more, crop producers are achieving the uniformity and consistency that healthy starts create, which can carry into yield and quality.

L-CBF 7-21-3 MKP starter utilizes quality monopotassium phosphate as a unique orthophosphate component in a nutrient-rich and gentle carbon-based blend (derived from sugar cane molasses), which fosters a relationship between biology and chemistry. In addition to a proven delivery of more nutrients into the plant and resulting growth advantage from the start, these health benefits can also be visually seen with more soil clinging to roots, which is obviously means more biological activity in the root zone.

The end of the wheat-growing season in Middle River Minnesota turned very dry and everyone’s yields suffered.  Obvious differences in soil types could be seen from stressed plants in areas of the field with lighter soil and likely also similar lower levels of organic matter.  That line seen from above with NDVI technology told a different story for the area in the field where L-CBF 7-21-3 MKP was used.  The variability in soil types and apparent crop stress vanished right at that line. The same line that first showed up on an image from Farmers Edge satellites sent via a text message.  Soil variability didn’t abruptly change in the field and follow a pattern outlined perfectly with a planter pass, but rather a biologically minded liquid carbon-based fertilizer helped build a stronger plant and community, with a larger root system and visually more rhizosphere activity.  The wheat field demonstrated a classic field long plant health portrait that overcomes another season’s unpredictable challenges.   The better-started wheat, with a carbon-based approach, set up the crop for season-long performance despite moisture inconsistencies related to soil types and conditions.  Once again the proven value of an in-furrow application of L-CBF 7-21-3 MKP not only could be measured on the combine yield monitor but also from images of plant health taken from above.


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