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Land Lab Year 2, pt. 1

15 Feb 2020  •  Tony Kramer

In part 1 of this two-part episode, Host Tony Kramer speaks with Jake Mauer, an agronomist with RDO Equipment Co., about Year #2 of the team's involvement with the Land Lab at North Dakota State College of Science.

The primary objective of the Land Lab is to reinforce agriculture education at the college. RDO Equipment Co. helped the program by providing the equipment and expertise needed to plant fields and also implemented several field trials to test new technology and provide the college and students with real data. 

Check out past episodes and guests – visit the  Episode Archive.

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Catch this episode’s complete transcript here:

Tony: Welcome back to another episode of the podcast. This is episode number 111. Today we're going to be talking about year two of the North Dakota State College of Science agriculture land lab. Before we dive into the show please take a moment to subscribe to this podcast if you haven't already, you can subscribe to the show on the many different podcasting apps that we are streaming this out to. It's on Apple's podcast app, we have it on Stitcher, Overcast, SoundCloud as well as many others. While you're out there drop us a review. We'd love to hear what you think about the show.

Lastly, make sure to follow RDO Equipment Company on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and catch all of our latest videos on YouTube. You can also follow me on twitter @RDOTonyK. With that let's get back to the show. I am really excited to welcome back to the show. Jake Mauer, our agronomist here at RDO Equipment Company covering the Midwest region. Jake has been on the show in the past back in Episode 82 and 83. We talked about the NDSCS land lab year one. We gave an overcap, a review of what we did out there.

Jake is back on the show today to talk about year two and what we kind of learned and what we saw out there at the land lab. Thanks for joining us on the show again today, Jake. To get started let's hear again a little bit about your background and how you got to where you are today.

Jake: Sure, Tony. Thanks again for having me back. I must not have embarrassed myself too much on the first season or the first year of the land lab so here we're back again talking about year two. A little bit about myself I am the Midwest Ag Agronomist as Tony already said. I've worked for RDO now for two years. We are working on a series of different trials across our region now. We've expanded some of the projects we've done at the land lab in the past where we're making them a little bit bigger, more robust.

We're trying to get a little more in depth with things, work a lot with sprayers, work a lot with lots of different pieces. I think you'll find that the tale of the land lab this year, the tale of even my career within RDO is feeling like we're finally finding that niche where different things are and we're taking lessons that we've learned in the past and we're applying and moving forward. I think you'll see a lot of those recurring themes. That's a little bit about myself let's just dive right in. Year two.

Tony: Absolutely. Let's dive into this year two. Year one a lot of great outcomes, we learned a lot of lessons. If you have not listened to the overview recap go back in our episodes listen to Episode 82 and 83. It was a two part episode discussing what we did out there at the land lab down in Wahpeton, North Dakota. Now we're going to jump forward. We completed year two for the year of 2019. It was a lot of fun. There was a lot a lot of headaches, a lot of lessons learned.

Jake: A lot of water.

Tony: A lot of water, a very good point. Let's just start out Jake talking about the trials, what trials were set and what did we do out there at the land lab?

Jake: As you probably review from last year, we had wheat on the south half of the field, we had corn on north half. This year we changed things up a little bit we kept corn so second year corn on the north half of the field, second half of the or the south half of the field was soybeans. We thought that was going to be a pretty natural fit to go from wheat to soybeans looking at herbicides looking at some of those things. What we had was basically just a corn soybean look like a typical Minnesota North Dakota kind of- Southeast North Dakota farm anyway kind of your typical farmstead.

We had the soybeans and on the soybean plot we had half of it was no-till and half of it was in its second year now of continuing the conventional tillage on the north half of that plot. With the corn we still had kind of that Jake’s acre’s plot in the northwest corner which just always happens to be that really tough piece where you can go in. It doesn't take much to screw that up to say the least especially when you have some drainage issues, but that was the way that the plots were laid out. Now, in terms of the plots themselves we had a lot of help.

We were working with a team from John Deere, we had access to some kind of new to us-- It's not new technology by any means, but we had a split row planter. A split row planter, the 1795, 1223 split row for those of you who are familiar with that style, basically it's a 12 row 30 inch corn planter with 15 inch inner spacings. You can either get that in a 23 or 24 row where you'd have that extra gain on the outside but we had just the ones that would fit in between those 12 rows. We ended up with 23 rows at 15 inch row spacing.

It was a 30 foot wide planter which also reviewing from last year we had a 44 foot DB planter so big difference we're no longer 22 inch row spacing, we're more of that conventional, 30, 15 inch kind of farm and that allowed us to do some really neat things because we were dealing with a true exact emerge planter instead of it being a drill versus a planter.

That gave us the ability to do some fun stuff with our soybeans, we went interspacing 15, 30 alternated all the way across the plot. Every pass was 30 and then 15 and 30 and then 15 and then intermixing that with some population differences. We went 80,000 and we went with a regular 140,000 and then we bumped it up to 220,000 just to see what some different things look like to see if we find any differences. We found some big differences across the no-till versus conventional tillage in that plot which we'll get to in a little bit when we talk about some of the things we learned.

On the corn plot it's the exact same model. It was a 15 versus 30 all the way across the plot and we also had some population changes just to shake things up. We went with a normal 35,000 population and then for the heck of it we bumped it to 50,000 just to see what that did so we had 15 inch corn on 50,000 population which you can imagine what that story will look like, but really interesting plot and having that tighter planter, having that even 14 foot shorter planter gave us the ability to do a lot more passes and a lot more trials.

That's how that ended up the Jake acres plot in the northwest corner of the field for year two was literally a precision Ag planner setup demonstration.

It was one of those Tony ran the planter all the way up to the end and then he says, “All right, Jake, here you go keep her between the fence rows kind of thing,” and it was like, “Well, what if I press this button and what if I do this?” And we-- It was kind of: “What if I press this all the way so what if we kicked the downforce all the way up as far as we could go or all the way down as far as we could go and then we see what some of those really aggressive differences do to the yield to how the crop responds.”

Likewise we had a little space out there so Tony took the planter and we turned compensation off for one round and did one really tight circle and then he turned it on for the other and did another tight circle and didn't tell us anything about which one it was. He was the only one who knew and it was amazing when you get out there that you can identify which had turned corn and which didn't even on a really tight turn like that. That was how the plots were set up. What do you think Tony? What things did you-

Tony: You painted a very good picture on what the land lab of year two looked like there Jake. Essentially like you said corn and soybean mere image, we did some row spacing, we did some population within that row spacing and then we did that planter setup or precision Ag trial that we kind of talked about and also the crop circles I hear you referring to them as. I really thought that was cool. We had a hard time quantifying the yield obviously.

Most people know corn doesn't like to be harvested around curves, the snouts of a corn head don't like to bend unless you run it into the ground, but it was very visual you could definitely see when it comes to a visual aspect now, we had full intentions of getting out there and hand pulling some ears, doing some manual yield calculations on those inside and outside rows whether we'll talk about that here very shortly. It just didn't work out for us to get out there and do that. That really turned into a visual plot versus quantifying it with some numbers, but it was very good.

You mentioned we had the opportunity to work with John Deere, Scott Schedler and his team, great people to work with. It was very fun to be able to work with them, utilize a planter that gave us the ability to do both 30-inch and 15-inch spacing. I know some people use those planters out there. They're not hugely popular here in the Red River Valley. I know you go to some of the other RDO territories, and you do see some of those split row planters. It was a very good year, we learned a lot and that's really where I want to jump into now is what lessons we learn because oh, boy there was a lot of them.

A lot of people know, of course, 2019 was not the best year when it came to weather and just environmental effects on farming. It was tough out there. Everything from right away spring planting we didn't get this planted until what? End of May beginning of June. I think we planted the corn I believe was May 31st or something the last day of May planted the soybeans couple June 3rd, I think in the first week of June. It was really a tough year and reason being it was wet. It was very wet out there. We were not able to get in there last year and do any water management. We were hoping to do some surface drainage with some surface ditches and a scraper.

We could not get in there. It was just too wet the fall of 2018 which then led into a very wet spring of 2019. Starting out, just going through this list of lessons that we learned. Jake, tell us a little bit about some of the roadblocks, we ran into some of the struggles we had, and things that we were able to take back and really file away in our lessons learned drawer. It wasn't a beautiful year as far as yield goes but we feel that there is a ton of value in these lessons that we learn.

Again, to remind everybody, the land lab is something that we're not looking at it to be a picture-perfect show plot. We're not looking to grow very, very high yields when it comes to our crops. We more so use this as a learning experience for us, for the students and for all that are involved. Jake, dive into these lessons learned tell us a little bit about some of the struggles we had and some of the winds we had.

Jake: Yes, so really, in keeping with that recurring thing about lessons being learned, I think the big takeaway at the end of the year and we noticed this midway through the season, was that there's a big difference between sympathizing with your customers, sympathizing with an experience versus empathizing. With all of the lessons that we learned, we took that knowledge base that we thought we had, and that those emotions that we thought that we understood of our customers and of even the students or within ourselves, and we took that to that next level.

By trying some of the things we did and learning some of the things we did, we were no longer just saying, "Oh, yes, I think I understand how you feel." it's now we can sit there with a cup of coffee and say, “Yes, been there, done that,” and it takes that relationship to a different level. Here's one of the big things coming from Kansas, it's something that I've had more than my fair share of experience with, but resistant weeds. We went out there and we've had a population of water-hemp over the last few years is starting to evolve, which again, where I came from that's old news, but it's very new and up and coming in this part of the Red River Valley, where we're starting to deal with a lot of resistance that wasn't there before.

Especially with water-hemp, which I'm sure most of you know it's a pig-weed species. Its brother, sister, cousin, whatever you want to say to the Palmer amaranth, to the Redroot pigweed, to the Powell amaranth. You can go across the board with that but it's an amaranthus species and the water-hemp has a lot of those same challenges and characteristics of really sucking or zapping the life out of your crop if you don't properly manage it, and we had our fair share of that population, especially with those areas that we couldn't get sprayed timely.

We had drowned out areas that finally dried up and as most of you know those are great hotspots for those types of weeds. I think that was where we started to see some of those differences in the no-till conditions where we had a cover crop we planted green, we went out there we had cereal rye from last fall, we planted green, we had that cover, we got it terminated right after we planted and then we put down our herbicide program, really simple herbicide program very little residual didn't really seem like we needed to that time and quite honestly with the rains we got it wasn't going to stick very long anyway.

When things finally started to warm up and green up, we still didn't have very good emergence with our beans, but we ended up with a ton of patches of water-hemp and it was really amazing to see that weed suppression in the no-till in the tighter row spacings versus the conventional tillage and the 30-inch row spacings that's not always going to be the case. Certainly in the environment that we were working within this season that was a big deal.

Let's just say we went out there with a very nice exact apply sprayer, latest and greatest in technology and we gave her a nice shot of roundup and a nice shot of well, let's just say we had plenty of coverage and ended up with some weeds that more than snuck by I don't know how long we spent pulling those weeds that escaped my escapades of pesticide application, but let's just say that we definitely saw some resistance out there and it was something that was really eye-opening when the two of us were out there pulling weeds.

Tony: Yes, absolutely. Jake that it was really surprising to me. We put that tank mixed together. We went out there applied it came back a couple days later and there are a few of those plants out there a few of those weeds that we did nothing but make them angry and that is real life. That is something that here within the RDO organization, we know that our customers out there and other farmers throughout the United States and around the world, it's real life. That's what you guys are dealing with. It really, that was a big takeaway for us as far as one of the lessons learned is a little more customer and or farmer empathy.

We realize what you're dealing with and we realize that the timeliness of maybe a pesticide application or really getting out and scouting fields as often as you need to it opened my eyes I was really blown away after that application, how many weeds did escape that application and it really brings to light the importance or the realization of pesticide resistance within some of these weeds.

Jake: With all of that we could look at all the different parts of the season everything from the planning phase, and we seemingly had everything lined up, we had the planter, everything was stage, we were basically at the field edge. We were ready to get going we had plenty of time to sit there and analyze and over-analyze rethink and get everything going. We had the seed everything was staged exactly where it needed to be the day was ready to come where we were going to go plant and how many settings did we overlook?

How many corn seeds were laying on top of the ground because we couldn't figure out the downforce or we just couldn't get things into the ground or some of our populations were off and some of the things where it's like you spent all that time planning and talking and thinking and just overdoing everything to where it's finally ready to go. It's like, all right, let's go hit the go button. Let's shift her into gear and let's run some acres. How many things that we overlooked so many what, or seemingly little things that added up to really, really big parts of the equation.

Tony: That was one of the things that I remember when we were planting. First off, we put the planter in the ground, took off and by mistake we were putting down-- So our headlands we wanted to plant that just a standard I believe was 35,000 seeds an acre 32,000 seeds. By mistake, we had the planting population setup at 50,000. Our first 50 yards of planting by mistake was planted at 50,000 seeds an acre and that was a simple overlook, we stopped. We reset the planter to plant our standard population and we took off again one of the things that I remember specifically was when we went down to the fifteen inch row spacing.

Planting the fifteen inch rows, there was one seed ball that we didn't get that locking nut turned inside that cover and gave us issues, it gave us issues. We couldn't figure out what was going on? Why was that, why was that rogue unit not planting properly and really all it took for us to open up that door, that vacuum door and see that seed ball did not get locked down. Again it brings to light so many things that our customers go through the farmers out there that you can be as planned and as ready and set up to go, but there's a lot of things that can be over looked. Now Jake, I want to keep going with this conversation, but let's pause this right here.

We will finish back up two weeks from now, make this a two part episode. There is just so much to talk about I don't want to try to cram it in one episode. So we are going to pause here. We will catch back up with Jake again in two weeks where we will finish this conversation about some of the lessons that we learned out at the land lab. We are going to talk about some of the guests that we were able to get out there out of the land lab as well as give you guys a little sneak peek at what year three or the 2020 crop season is going to look like for us out at the NDSCS Land Lab. So be sure to catch us back in two weeks when we finish up this episode.

Tony Kramer

Tony Kramer is the Product Manager of Planting Technology and a Certified Crop Advisor at RDO Equipment Co. He is also the host of the Agriculture Technology podcast. If you have any questions for Tony or would like to be a guest on the podcast, you can find him on X at @RDOTonyK.

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