Flooded corn field

Water stands in a corn field near Ethan, S.D., May 22. James River flooding impacted the area, preventing farmers from doing fieldwork.

Over the last six months, row crop producers’ hopes went from wide open to narrow margins. With endless rains, weather events, and complications, agronomist Wally West said the best thing to do now is move forward in the right direction.

West is an agronomist representative for Syngenta in South Dakota. After just over a quarter of all South Dakota farm acres went unplanted in 2019 – largely in his area in the southeastern corn of the state – he put together a few tips and tricks to getting around the troubles of weed pressure on prevent planted acres.

West called it “one of, if not the, most challenging years” in his recent memory and said that working with shifting weed pressure on grounds that normally would have been planted is something that many farmers are doing for the first time in a long while.

The lack of competition for weeds to grow over the last four months has been especially troubling, he said. Weeds such as mares tale and foxtail barley, not typically seen in southeastern South Dakota sprung up all over the area.

“Boy did we see it this year,” West said.

The trouble, he said, is that these weeds have always been present but have been pushed down and stumped by tillage and crops. Now that the fields were wide open, West suggested fall or spring tillage to kill them – or even a late-season herbicide.

“It germinates in the fall, so we need to do some fall or spring tillage,” he said.

The key point West mentioned was that for planting acres that were not tilled due to weather or those that are generally no-till acres, you must make sure that the crops are the first thing popping up, not the weeds.

The next key that West identified for 2020 is to get detailed soil samples done on prevented planting acres.

“Soil sampling is always a good idea, but it’s a really good idea on prevent plant acres,” he said.

As farmers attempt to plant next spring, West said knowing exactly where your nutrient levels are after a year off from crops can help determine the best course of action for the 2020 growing season.

“Any time we have a lot of rainfall, it affects fertility levels. Now we can’t just assume those fertility levels are the same from 2018 without a crop in the acre,” he said.

A soil sample would also check disease pressure on soybean acres. West said he’s seen a lot of new diseases pop up in soybeans. Ideally, West said all farmers should use a good quality seed treatment the next time around.

Above all else, West said farmers need to continue to plan. Although he joked that farmers made it all the way through the alphabet this year on their plans, not planning would be just as bad. With climatologists suggesting next season will also be wet due to excess soil moisture this year, West said plan A should be preparing for a wet spring.

“It’s pretty easy to push the easy button and just not plan,” he said. “You just need to know how to adapt.”

Perhaps now more than ever, West suggests using herbicide at full label rates during the spring as opposed to what some producers may have done in the past. With escaped weeds and flooding bringing new pests, using the full label rate or close to it is everyone’s best bet, he said.

Even with all the struggles, West said he was proud of the way farmers handled the challenges in 2019. With excessive moisture, he said he’s seen some people just give up but this year farmers pulled out the stops with jumping on new pressures right away.

“They saw the challenges that herbicide resistance was making, and they adapted,” he said.

Like everyone in agriculture, West said farmers need to continue to show their resilience – which is what they do best.

“We just want to offer agronomic solutions to producers,” he said. “There are so many opportunities in agriculture. We are an incredibly resilient industry. There are better days ahead and we look forward to them.”

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Reach Reporter Jager Robinson at 605-335-7300, email jager.robinson@lee.net or follow on Twitter @Jager_Robinson.