Seed called key to healthy crops

John Rickertsen, a NDSU research agronomist in Hettinger, focused on seeds, both the value and variety, during his presentation at the Hettinger County Crop and Livestock Improvement Association annual meeting Feb. 1 in New England. Herald photo / Brad Mosher

When it comes to successful crops, the seed is the key, according to John Rickertsen, a NDSU REC Research Agronomist in Hettinger.

By Brad Mosher

The Herald

So much so that he had two afternoon sections at the annual Hettinger County Crop and Livestock Improvement meeting Friday (Feb. 1) at the Memorial Hall in New England.

The group has an annual meeting every year to highlight the latest developments in business management, crop and seed production, and animal husbandry, according to Hettinger County Extension agent Duaine Marxen.

Although the turnout was a little less than Marxen said he was hoping for, weather was playing a role in the attendance.

Rickertsen, an agronomist at the Hettinger Research Extension Center first discussed seed treatments and if they were worth the money. He followed that with a crop variety update to close out the meeting in New England.

According to Rickertsen, seed treatments have had a dramatic effect on farms and crops over the decades.

“In the 1930s, they (farmers) would have 30 to 40 percent yield losses from bunt,” he explained at the meeting, including how plant balls being hit by combines would release clouds of spores. Years ago, those clouds of spores could ignite and cause fires in the wheat fields.

“This (bunt) used to be a huge problem until they started using seed treatments. Now, it is something we’ll occasionally see, but because we are using treatments … or using certified seed, we have gotten away from that,” he said.

There is a large number of fungi, which can cause problems for wheat in North Dakota, according to Rickertsen. Common root rot can be a big problem for wheat crops in the High Plains, he explained to the audience attending the annual meeting.

When a crop has problems, it usually is not one thing, he said. “Usually there is more than one problem, like root rot complex.”

The fungicides, like herbicides, have resistance numbers so if they have the same number, they have the same chemistry, according to Rickertsen. Some compounds may help with one problem, but not another.

“We are combining things now so that we can get a broad spectrum of control,” he explained.

He showed results of studies on spring wheat, including ones with small grain on small grain in western North Dakota. “I averaged, with seed treatments, gains between six and 6.6 percent increase in stand,” he said, noting that in some places it was much higher.

“With seed treatments, I think most times, it pays to put those on there,” he said. “I see those as money worth increasing. It doesn’t always increase the yield, but you can’t control what the rest of the season is like, too. They are still doing the seed treatment trials,” Rickertsen said.

Wireworms are one of the biggest problems with wheat, he added.

New things

“Biologicals have become a really big thing,” he said. “This is a really broad area.

Crop rotation has a really big impact on the amount of disease they have down in that soil. Crop rotation does a lot, especially when we are looking at crown rot and root rot,” he said.

When corn is added to a rotation, it helps with the yield, he said. “When I added a sunflower or safflower into that rotation, we’re gaining 10 bushels.”

He said that when he threw a broadleaf into the road, it really breaks up the issues with the crown and root rot.

“It is amazing, the biologicals are really going to be happening. The big companies are getting behind it now. They are releasing stuff in other parts of the world – China and Europe – that they have not released here yet,” he said.

Crop variety update

When it came to varieties, the area had a tough year, according to Rickertsen.

“In Hettinger, we had a very dry May-June. The temperatures were pretty decent, except for last February when it got really cold. Kind of like we have right now. It kind of made me question why I moved here from the south, “ he added with a chuckle.

In addition, there was crop damage from a hailstorm in the early summer.

With more businesses involved, there are more choices available for farmers to choose from, he added. “We get a lot of varieties released every year. It had been about 10 a year, but look at last year. Only two of them were university varieties. The rest of these were privates,” he said as he posted an image of far more than a dozen varieties on a graph.

Rickertsen showed graphs, which compared high quality and yield with the different varieties now available to farmers. Each of the graphs showed the strengths ands weaknesses of the different crop choices.

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