Rainy weather brought muddy fields to the Tidewater Research Station in Plymouth on Aug. 6 which meant field tours had to be taken off the agenda of the 44th annual Blackland Farm Managers Tour, but that didn’t dampen the enthusiasm of the more than 450 farmers and others in attendance.
“We were very pleased with the tour,” said Beaufort County Extension Agent Rob Gurganus, who served as master of ceremonies. “Of course, we had hoped to do field tours, but we made adjustments and carried on. We fed 430 people, and all told I would guess we had more than 450 people on hand because some folks left before the meal. Without a doubt, valuable information was presented at the tour.”
The Blackland Farm Managers Tour is considered the most comprehensive field day in North Carolina with information on the latest research in corn, cotton and soybeans presented. Topics on everything from varietal selection to pest control to fertility were covered.
Concern about Palmer amaranth resistance was top on the agenda at the field day. “We can no longer talk about weed control in North Carolina without talking about Palmer amaranth. It is now the driver weed,” said Alan York, North Carolina State University weed scientist.
Palmer amaranth is very competitive, widespread and resistant to both glyphosate and ALS inhibitors, York said. The weed is all over the Coastal Plain of North Carolina and has moved into the Piedmont surprisingly fast.
Research in 2010 showed that 98 percent of Palmer amaranth populations in North Carolina were glyphosate resistant and 97 percent were ALS resistant and 95 percent were resistant to both. “What that basically says is we’re running out of tools in a hurry,” York said.
“We’re not seeing new chemistry coming onto the market, and that’s why there’s so much concern about resistance,” he said. “We’re not seeing new modes of action in the marketplace, but what we are seeing is more effort being focused on developing transgenic herbicide resistant crops.”
Criteria for selecting soybean varieties
Turning to soybean variety selection, Extension Soybean Specialist Jim Dunphy said relative maturity, disease resistance, yield, herbicide resistance and adaptability to the environment are important criteria when selecting soybean varieties. He said farmers should seek soybean varieties targeted to their production conditions
”For example, if you have disease pressure, then selecting a variety with disease resistance makes good sense, but if you don’t have disease pressure, then you don’t need a variety with disease resistance,” he said.
Addressing cotton varieties, Cotton Specialist Keith Edmisten noted that before the advent of biotechnology, cotton varieties stayed around a long time and farmers knew where the different varieties fit and didn’t fit, but with biotechnology the life span of cotton varieties is much shorter.
In the past, cotton farmers could put most of their acreage in trusted varieties that lasted a long time, but now farmers will need to spread out their varietal choices and be more active in looking at new varieties, Edmisten said.
“There’s never been a variety that doesn’t have a weak spot,” Edmisten said. “All varieties have some strong points and some weak points. The problem is we don’t know what their strong points and weak points might be. I’ve seen varieties that come out that look very good in their first two years and then flop in their third year. It’s important that farmers spread their risk by using several varieties.”
Edmisten noted that this past year really favored early varieties in North Carolina, but this year, depending on how the storm season plays out, farmers might do better with later varieties.
For cotton, nitrogen and water management are critical, according to Sandy Stewart, a cotton physiologist and the director of the Research Station Division of the North Carolina Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services.
“The most defining growth characteristic of cotton, what makes cotton different than the other crops we grow, is that cotton is a tropical perennial shrub, and that growth characteristic infuences everything you do to manage a cotton crop. It makes it different from managing other row crops,” Stewart said.
The number one management challenge for cotton producers, according to Stewart, is adapting the perennial growth habit of cotton to an annual row crop environment. “The challenge is to manage the vegetative growth and the reproductive growth. You want to take that vegetative growth and turn it something reproductive. You can’t sell the leaves, you can sell the bolls,” he said.
“For cotton, water demand is greatest when the plant goes from square to harvestable boll. When the flower blooms, that’s when the cotton plant pulls the most water,” Stewart explained. “Nitrogen demand is not the highest when the flower blooms, but when the plant begins to develop seed within the boll, which is when nitrogen should be applied to achieve maximum yield.”