Research and data have proven their worth in optimizing planting and farming processes. And it’s important to understand the nitty-gritty to effectively take care of your products. Chris Weaver is a sixth-generation farmer from Central Maryland who contributes a lot to soybean agronomic research and was crowned as The Podfather in 2020. In this episode, he joins Todd Steinacher to share great insights on the importance of evaluating different products and understanding soil biologicals, base saturation, and soil testing. Chris also explains the value of building relationships and challenging your systems if they haven’t been working.
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Lessons From The Podfather, Chris Weaver
I would like to welcome our guest, Chris Weaver. Chris, welcome to the show.
Thank you for having me.
You bet. Chris, before we get too far into the weeds, tell us about yourself, your farming practices, and what brings you to enjoying agronomy.
Treat every bean acre as if it’s a high–yield contest.
I’m a sixth-generation farmer from Central Maryland. Primarily, we’re corn and beans. We also have a small feedlot where we feed out several hundred heads of cattle a year. We grow rye whiskey for Sagamore Rye Whiskey. That became a trend for us to be able to watch and see the fruits of our labor go from start to finish and the end product. Once that is finished, we bring the mash back, feed it to our feedlot cattle. We are doing it full circle. Agronomy is special to me. Every farmer has things that they specialize in. Dad takes care of the feedlot. Mine’s always been the row crop. It’s been the one thing that diversified me, and I find a passion for it. I love trying new things and striving for yields we’ve never seen before.
A lot of times, agronomy and understanding what we can achieve for higher yield is a labor of love. If I understand correctly, you do have opportunities to be an instructor for soybean agronomics and share that labor love with others. Could you tell us a little about what those opportunities are like for you?
Over the years, we started doing our own research plots on the farm. We separate fact and fiction from products. One thing we always hear is, “This product could give you ten more bushels. This product could give you 30 more bushels. Right now, we should be growing about 700, 800-bushel beans and over 1,000-bushel corn.” We started our own on-farm field trials. This 2021, we’re testing 52 different products from different companies and we’ll evaluate those. We’ll give some companies two years in our test trials, some will be 3 to 4 years before we take it to our production fields. Moving that forward, it’s helped us to eliminate a lot of products, high salt products, even though they say they’re low salt or high salt. We’ve taken those out of our lineup. We do not use them. We also have our seed treater. That’s been a big help for us.
Along the way, I’ve been blessed. One of the original Yield Masters, Terry Vissing, become a dear friend of mine. He and Kevin Kalb started a school called the MACC School. It’s called Midwest Advanced Crop Consulting. Kevin teaches the corn and focuses on becoming a national corn grower champion. I bring the past years of data in our high-yielding soybeans to the program with MACC. I enjoy it because now I’m not doing it in Maryland or helping guys in Maryland, we’re all over. We got growers in France, South Africa, let alone the continental United States in Canada.
It’s amazing when I’m dealing with guys in Illinois all the way to Nebraska. They’re seeing a lot of the steps and the programs that I talked about during the MACC. Now, they’re being able to see the changes. Brandon Hunt, a prime example down in Kentucky, told me that he’s looking at the best crop he’s ever had. It’s phenomenal as we’re moving forward and bringing products to the table, letting them know about inoculants that we’re using, as well as seed treatments and soybean varieties that were found to work and do not work through our test trials.
Chris, you give on-farm trials a whole another evaluation or a whole another level here. I work with many growers who say, “We’ll use the plot down the road. We’ll look at several plots.” I advocate guys doing advanced trials like you’re doing so we know what can work. There are many products on the marketplace that claim they can increase yield, protect yield, or make something more available. To me, all those products could work in a given situation but those situations, how repeatable are they? I applaud you for you and your efforts for what you’re doing out there. How did that come to play? The scale that you are now, did it start with a couple of small plots and it expanded from there? Tell me about that journey.
It was funny. The first year we did it, I was like, “We’re only going to do 6 or 7 different companies.” One thing about me is I am terrible at saying no. More companies kept dropping off the product. I kept saying, “We’re going to expand this, take this, and look at this.” We only had 75 acres blocked out for the first year. That first year, we went from 75 acres to 125 acres because I started mixing products and looking at relationships between Monty’s Carbon with this high salt product. Did it reduce the salt load in the crop? Could we get a yield response? We were looking at a lot of different products.
Unfortunately, I didn’t start out slow. We jumped in as well as we do a variety of plots. I was told we have 75 different beans in our bean variety plot and over 125 varieties of corn from 102 days to 122 days in our corn plots. What’s valuable to us is that is our data. We can look at it. We know when the applications were made. There’s no hiding the data from us. You can’t doctor it. We have our own weigh wagon. Every plot is scaled by us. We do it by weigh wagon and then we come back and we also have a scale on the research farm. We drive the truck over it as well and we’re getting to live weights to compare all of our data.
It’s been a game-changer because we’ve separated the fact and the fiction at what products work and don’t work and how are we able to get this variety to react on this soil. It’s been more beneficial to us to make the next agronomic change. One thing is I don’t differ a lot in our practices. We might tweak a little but you don’t see me change a lot because the way we’ve been doing it, we’ve been able to separate out some products that work and don’t work.
It’s great information you have there, Chris. We have a lot of readers anywhere that specifically where AgriGold corn and soybeans are planted. I always like to dive into some of the regional challenges. I would assume a lot of the products you’re looking at are there to help with the regional challenges that you and your customers face but then you can take them across the pond to other parts of the country. Specifically in your regional area, what are some challenges that you and your customers face that you tried to pull away from these trials?
Being in Maryland, we can stand a chance of high winds and hurricanes. One of our big major things, first off, is standability. Corn or beans, it’s always standability. As we’re moving forward, we’re looking for hybrids that will stand. We have irrigated and non-irrigated ground. We need hybrids that will do well on irrigated soils as well as non-irrigated soils. We’re also looking at corn and bean hybrids that will tolerate sandy conditions versus our loamier conditions to our clay conditions.
In the Eastern Shore of Maryland is where we market a lot of our seeds as well, that’s all a sandy or sandier loam. In Central Maryland, we call that more Piedmont soil, which is a silt loam. When you go another 30 miles West of me, they have what they call Georgia clay, it’s red. When it’s hot, it’s hot, and bakes. When it’s wet, it’s wet. For us, we need a wide diverse array. One of the big benefits that we have found through our dealership is the amount of friends that we’ve got.
John Brien is our regional agronomist, he brings so much to the table for us. He looks at our plots and we do a plot in three different regions with different hybrids, corn and beans, as well as with Nathan Barringer’s expertise and bringing it in. I’m blessed over the years I’ve got a friend named Chris Cooper. He always hears me. Anytime I’m talking throughout the country, I always give a shout out to Chris Cooper. The reason I do that is Cooper brings the South into our farm. He lets me know what’s working irrigated and what’s not working.
I’m blessed with my friendship with Brooks Cardinal. Brooks has more sand there than Indiana irrigated. He’ll talk hybrids with me there and then we take it and we introduce those more to the Eastern shore of Maryland. It’s been what I call the team. You hear me always talk about the team. Those guys that I named are our corn and bean hybrid team. We talk out things. We go to Louisville. We go to the Commodity Classic. We always sit, have dinner, and discuss, “These are what we need to look at and why we need to look at them.” We put them in our bean and corn plots before we jump in the whole hog.
￼64432 is a prime example that Trecepta that came out. I didn’t jump on it right away because I heard it had some standability issues. In 2021, it’s one of the leading hybrids that we’re leading with for yield. We’re excited as we go out of our corn realm and get away from the 6499s and are looking towards the new hybrids like the 64247. In the last few years with AgriGold, we’ve been looking at more bean genetics. The 3722 bean was one that stood out to us. It had great branching. When we started looking at different kinds of bean hybrids, it was because we looked at it at our bean plot and we were able to pull that one out and say, “This has got some of the traits we’re looking for in our high producing ground.”
In 2021, we moved to XtendFlex traits. We picked a group of 3-4 beans and a group of 3-6 beans from what we tested in 2020 to be able to pull them over and look at. For 2021, in our bean plots, I’m excited that my relationship with Mike Kavanaugh has allowed us to look at some of the newer listings that will be coming out in 2022. We’ll get a firsthand look to be able to be cutting edge not just for myself but for the guys that are buying seed from us to say, “These are some of the seed-wise products that we need to be focused on for the future.”
A lot of good information there, Chris. A couple of things I want to break down. I’m glad you highlighted the value of a network. There’s a lot we can learn from anybody else. As they always say, “If you think you’re the smartest person in the room, you better go to a different room.” Growing up and even now, I asked too many questions to a fault because I like to learn things. I got cases and customers that constantly ask questions and challenge my thinking in and I love it. That’s how we’re going to learn and take things to the next level.
I’m glad that you’re networking with the guys to the Deep South to see how things handle from a heat standpoint. I network with my agronomist counterparts in those parts of the world or even to the West to learn how these products work because if we start finding certain characteristics, 9 times out of 10, they’re repeatable. To me, we can figure that out. Number two, I like that you do have a robust soybean variety testing program where you can characterize things to see if they can be deployed across larger acres.
My question back to you is, would a bean go on your production ground without going through your testing system first? Does it always have to go through the testing system 9 times out of 10 to where you can profile it and understand the characteristics before you deploy it? I’m sure there are some cases where a hot bean or hybrid comes out and you got to get it out there and try it. What’s your mentality there?
When a seed catalog comes, it goes through a rigorous testing here. I’m talking about the seed catalog. It’ll go to me and I’ll read it cover to cover. Uncle Tom will read it cover to cover, as well as Nate and then my father. We’ll all read it all the way through. We’ll highlight certain attributes or something we’re looking for certain types of ground. 8 out of 10 times, we will pick a bean that’s been in our variety trials. This will sound different for a lot of guys. That bean or corn that usually wins our test trial plots is not the bean or the corn we buy the most seed from.
We’re looking at our number 2 and number 3 in the plot because they seem to be the more consistent bean for us as we’re going through on production acres. Because it won a test trial, great, it performed that year. We’re focused on our numbers 2, 3, and 4 numbers to go into the production ground. We’re trying to push for high-yielding. Most times, we’ve already looked at the bean. In 2021, we have never grown the 3-4, or 3-6 beans from all the lineup because we sold trades in the XtendFlex platform that we needed delivery for.
We wanted the branching. We wanted to make sure that they’d go on 30-inch and 15-inch for our beans. We pulled them out in line up and we said, “These are the ones we’re going to pull and try this year.” The 3722 in 2020 had a lot of great branching. It went 15 were intros, as well as 30 is forest. We did what we needed it to do. We ended up growing 148.9 bushels out of that bean. I can’t complain and say it let us down but we do go through the beans several times throughout the year to push them. As we’re looking at things, we are selecting standability. We want early vigor. We’re looking for that bean that we know we can push at the end of the day.
Slow down and wait for the right opportunities to plant. Look at the long-range forecast.
It’s great insight there. I can remember looking at some account variety profiling data for some universities and there might be 30 entries in there. If you break them down statistically, it’s going to be hard to pick that one bean that did the best. A lot of times, they’re replicated over multiple sites, and 9 times out of 10, that same bean is not going to do well. I applaud you for not always chasing what numbers 1 and 2 did in a plot because those characteristics that follow it may not be there to support. If you’re working with a grower or you’re trying to educate folks on how to pick a bean variety using plot data to validate it but not getting so hung up in it and going off that 1 or 2 plot sets, how would you walk a grower through that?
Most of the time, we’re talking to growers and they need more than one bulk box. We will always tell them this, “For every 100 acres, let’s try a new variety of bean. Let’s try to find beans that will work well all over your farm and not one variety for every acre.” If we have a guy growing 600, 700 acres of beans, he may have 7 or 8 different varieties from a 2-7 all the way up to a 4-3. Besides spreading out the workload a little bit, that also allows us to be able to dig deeper and pick the bean more for the suited acre as well as say, “Where do you plan on starting? Let’s work around your schedule in the fall to be able to make sure that we’re accommodating you to get small grain in as well.” We’ll start with the earlier season beans for that. Our real big push is to make sure we’re trying to position.
We spend so much time on corn hybrids. “This corn needs to go on this kind of ground and be planted in this population.” We’re now focused on, “This bean needs to go on this kind of ground at this population.” We plant 5 to 6 different varieties of beans throughout the year. We’re planting anywhere from 125,000 to 165,000 plant population. We’ve tried the 90s in the lower crops. We couldn’t get it to be in our high-yielding range. One thing is we treat every bean acre as if it’s a high yield contest. We go through other fungicides, Monty’s Carbon or Monty’s Sugar, and we treat every acre the same. We’re pushing every limit that we can to get ahead. I challenge all of our growers to do the same thing.
One of my big things, when we’re talking to growers, is if you’ve been stuck in that 40, 50, 60-bushel rut for the last 8 or 10 years, why aren’t you doing something different than what you’re doing now? Could that be that your co-op agronomist needs to change? Could that be that there’s something wrong with your corn planter, or your combine? Maybe it’s your fertility program, your inoculant, or you need to break down and figure out what bean variety is the right variety for your acre. There’s more to this. Not to add more work to a farmer or saying we need more to do besides doing the repairs, being the accountant, as well as everything else on our operation, we need to harp on picking bean hybrids like we do corn hybrids.
You’re right on a lot of layers in that. Most growers I work with are using 5 to 6 different hybrids and we’re specific where we place them. Soybeans almost seem like, “Give me one that stands good. It’s healthy and I can go across all my acres.” There’s no silver bullet. We always keep thinking there’s a silver bullet coming. In my mind, I see this as a pendulum as it relates to yield. As we swing the pendulum on one way to get higher yields, we’re probably given up a little agronomics, plant health, and standability. If we swing it the other way to get good agronomics, we’re probably giving up some yield.
One, you got to find a balance in there. To me, we can’t find one bean and go across all these acres. The markets are reflecting that beans are becoming more popular. Here in Illinois, corn is still king but there’s a lot of cornfields that are migrating to a corn bean rotation. We got to get as much out of these beans as we can. To me, it’s profiling it and not just making one bean go across our whole farms and fields. It’s important that you bring that out.
The other piece that you tagged on, why aren’t we changing? Is it logistics, the equipment, and your current advisor? One of our guests said, “The most expensive eight words you could say is, ‘That is the way we’ve always done it.’” Sometimes we got to challenge ourselves to think differently. From your standpoint, if you’re working with the grower who says they’ve been stuck in that 40, 50, or 60-bushel rut for the last ten years and you say, “Why haven’t you changed?” They say, “That’s the way we’ve always done it.” What’s your response to pull them out of that comfort zone and challenge them to shoot for higher yields?
We’re blessed because of all the testing we do. Our fields are always open. Anybody can come to our farm at any time and we’ll walk you through any of the test trials. We will show you what we’re doing from a variety of plots down the line. One of the comments we always get is, “Your beans are potted up so much. How do you get them potted up?” We share a lot of what we’re doing and they said, “I wish we could do it.” I go, “Why can’t you? What aren’t you doing?”
Through the MACC group, one of the big benefits is all these guys want to learn how to get to the next level, the next steps in what we’re doing in growing and it’s amazing. What I always say when they come to the farm is, “You can do this but you’re your own limiting factor. You’re in a box and you haven’t cut down the side yet. As soon as you cut down the first side and you try that first new thing, you’re going to be able to see what’s going on.” It is tough. For my own farming, when we started using Monty’s Carbon back in 2010, everybody told me it was snake oil. Your here you’re spraying humics on the ground. I believed it a little bit myself. Over the next three years, we saw an increased earthworm movement. We’re starting to see fodder breakdown and seeing more microbial activity.
In 2021, you hear Uncle Tom and my dad say, “If it wasn’t for Monty’s Liquid Carbon, we would quit farming.” ￼I took those two guys over a ten-year period and changed both of their attitudes in what we were doing. I can remember getting yelled at every time I would put it in the sprayer and told, “You’re wasting money. You’re not going to help us. You’re going to cost us more money in the end. You’re taking the profit out of our pocket.” Now, you wouldn’t dream of not putting it in our sprayer here.
As we’re talking to growers and trying to get people, we bring them into our plot and we say, “You can do this. Here is how we have done it.” We show and tell them what we’re doing from bean hybrid selection to fertility to how much time we spend working on our planters. Nate works for us on the farm. He’ll probably spend on average three and a half weeks per planter making sure every facet is perfect. That doesn’t mean it’s going to be perfect in the field because there’s nobody that hates breakdowns worse than I do. I like to custom screen. That twenty-minute breakdown, these guys are making sure things are fixed perfectly.
As we’re moving forward, we don’t plant fast. We plant between 3 to 4 miles an hour, depending on the ground condition. We’re not moving fast. Everybody that works for me says, “What music do you listen to in the cab?” They all know the joke. I don’t even feel like our tractor has a radio because I always listen to the planter. I know a lot of people will say, “What do you mean by that?” When I’m planting, that planter is telling me everything I need to listen to, vacuum, air, is there a screech, is there something going on that’s not going right? You get one shot at that per year. I don’t want to go back and replant. I’m not going to do it at seven miles an hour and say, “I’m done. Congratulations, I’m the first.” I don’t care about that.
Being able to plant slower and get everything done, we’re not always the first one and we’re not always the first out of the gate. You sit back and you go, “My neighbor’s already out planting and he’s already halfway done. Here we are still in the building.” We focus more on slowing down and wait for the right opportunities to plant. We check GDUs. We look at the long-range forecast. Is it going from 80 to 90 degrees to 34 degrees in the next two weeks? It’s tough. When it’s 80 degrees out and your neighbors are planting and everything’s planting perfect and you know in a week it’s going to drop, it’s hard being the guy sitting back not planting.
In 2021, it was a good feeling that you were the guy that hasn’t planted when you hit that freezing mark and everybody’s corn and beans are out there doing nothing for 18 to 24 days. You’re going, “I’m happy I left that seed in the bag.” That goes back to our team. I’m blessed. I can call guys in Indiana and Illinois and say, “What’s your weather during the day?” They’ll tell me and we get that weather in 24 hours. If they’re telling me it’s cold, wet, and rainy, I know in 24 hours here in Maryland it’s going to be cold, wet, and rainy. I hold back, sit, and I’m patient. These are all the facets that we use to get ahead. It’s communication and the team. If Terry Vissing is telling me he’s planting, I usually wait three days later because I know what we ought to be doing.
What you’re saying is when the tractor is going and you’re planting, you tend to sing hums in your head or whistle more to where you can have some breaks in there. That can be distracting in the modern era with the GPS. There’s a lot of folks that got iPads and videos in there. Often, we could miss a problem because we’re not paying attention. It’s no different than being in a cornfield. When we’re out there, that field is talking to us about what’s wrong. Usually, it’s too late to make that correction. From a planting standpoint, if you are in tune with what the planner is saying or looking like, you got opportunities to make those corrections now versus being down for multiple days or even have to come back and replant because of a problem.
It’s funny because I made a comment. We had a guy come in from John Deere, he looked at all of our tractors and he said, “What’s with the seed digging tool in every tractor?” I said, “My grandfather’s now passed. He was 96 when he passed but I can remember if you didn’t get your butt up out of that seat and check the depth on that planter or something, you knew that there was a two-inch wrench coming and being chucked at you.” Even now that he’s gone, I still feel that wrench could come out at any time and hit me. Our bean planters, corn planters, and every planter have the depth tool.
So often, you could miss a problem because you’re not paying attention.
In a field, you better be out of that tractor 3, 4, or 5 times during planting and check your depth. Make sure the row cleaners are working. Make sure you’re no-till coulters are all functioning and doing what they need to. Check the liquid system. That’s the one good thing with Nate, he runs our bean planter for us. He is constantly getting out and checking, “What we need to do. This no-till field isn’t doing any good.” We try to make sure all of our beans go in two inches deep. By doing that, I want to make sure we’re checking every facet. We have airbags on all of our planters for a row ride. We check singulation. If we go below 97 singulation, I’m getting worried about what our final stand is going to look like. We got to get out. You got to check. You got to check your sensors. We spend all this money on planter technology and combine technology. It’s only as good as the guy sitting behind the wheel.
You hear my dad always use the word the pet cat, you only have problems when the guy doesn’t get out from behind the steering wheel and check everything. We are always trying to control the controllables. It’s our main focus in farming. By controlling the controllables, we mean making sure the planters are perfect, the combines are perfect, and everything we’re doing. We can screw up, too. I’m not saying that we’re perfect in everything we do. For every one good thing I do, I screw up about 5 or 6 times. Some of my biggest screw-ups have been my biggest successes along this journey.
As they say, Chris, the first step to anything is admitting there’s a problem. At least you’re humble enough to admit that there are some challenges out there because at the end of the day there are always challenges. We make the decision with what information we have. That sensor is only going to tell us if there’s a problem. It still takes whatever’s between our ears to go in and actively react to that. We do spend a lot of time and invest a lot of dollars on planters these days.
I can still go to a cornfield and if I got corn plants that are 2 or 3 growth stages different, the first thing I want to do is go out there and dig up and put the crowns in a straight line. I can always find the plants that have 2 or 3 leaf collars behind, it is always going to have a 0.25-inch too shallow or a 0.25-inch too deep. In the last several years, it’s profound with the challenging environments where the planting into, but in 2021 I spent a little bit more dedicated time with putting in plots, and watching the planter units.
Even on some of these brand-new planters, they’ve got all the bells and whistles and airbags and everything, those units are still jumping, probably more than they probably should be jumping. As we go from the big tanks or even the boxes from fully loaded to half full, that weight is different. How often are we making sure that’s appropriate versus assuming that it’s all there. Those are some things that I pointed out in the last several years and have helped growers make some changes in their management practices.
You bring something up. A few years ago, there was a farmer here that had an eight-row planter and he told me he outfitted it with the latest greatest technology and now he can plant 8 to 9 miles an hour. I looked at his planter and he had it loaded down with weights. He had weights all over this planter with the latest greatest technology and I looked at him and I said, “What do you spend on this technology?” He said, “A small fortune.” I looked at him and I said, “Now that you can plant nine miles an hour with your eight-row planter. Once you have been better off to take that eight-row planter and buy a sixteen-row planter and plant the same amount of ground but only planted at four miles an hour.”
He looked at me and he goes, “I never thought about that.” I said, “Because you got sold on buying the latest greatest planter stuff and not looking at the basics. The basics are to go slow.” I know there are high-speed planters, that’s great. I don’t have that. I’m talking merely on my side with the XPs and row units and stuff like that. I’d rather you buy twice the planter you need to be able to plant the same amount of ground but go slower. Make sure that you’re not seeing that road bump. The smoother that planter box rides, the better off you are. Todd, you hit the nail on the head. That row ride has to be smooth. You don’t want to see them bouncing up and down because that is going to eliminate your yield. From two inches to 1.25-inch, that is yield that you left on the plate.
Chris, in the spring of 2021 when the soil temperatures are getting all crazy, at least in Central Illinois, I went out and took digital meat thermometers that had an app hooked to them. I had surface 1 inch, 2 inches and tracked it for multiple days. It blew my mind how much insulation there was at two inches. I started getting to an inch to the surface and it stayed insulated below the surface, but it fluctuated aggressively. In my mind, if I’ve got the seed or seedling that’s two inches, 1.5-inch in that zone, it’s a little bit more protective if we do get these crazy swings that we can’t dissipate. Stuff that was planted at an inch, 9 times out 0f 10, my issues at least in 2021 was all from seeds being too shallow. When that cool came down, it nailed it.
I would challenge anybody, you can go online and watch the daily average of a soil temperature, but go get some digital meat thermometers. To me, that’ll tell you a huge story. I’m a nerd when it comes to data. I had to go put it into a spreadsheet and then fill a chart around it and figure out what times of the day is the soil temperature the most aggressively of a swing. By doing this, I tend to tell, “By 7:00 PM or 8:00 PM, it’s going to drop off to about 6:00 the next morning.” A lot of guys might like to plant all night but there may come a time based off insight and information that we need to stop. Often, I find that it’s hard, but there are technologies out here that we can use to make those good decisions. That first temperature that comes in, at least we’re setting that crop up for success and not potential failures.
We try to stop at dark. When we’re planting, when the sun goes down, we stop and we shut the planters down. That’s to get a rest. We start at the crack of dawn, and we’re going. One of the toughest things is before a large rain event, we shut the planters down. If we know that there’s a heavy rain coming. It’s tough, that 24 hours where you’re watching your neighbor next door going around the clock to get done, we stop. That is a tough thing to do to make sure that in the end, we’re able to get the right stand and make sure you get the picket fence is the term that I’m looking for it. That picket fence will stay with you all year long. Realistically I get 40 shots at this on my own. In farming, I do not want to take and lose one of those shots. There are enough variables, hail, hurricanes, and thunderstorms, they can take it away from me. From my management controlling the controllables I want to make sure everything I’m doing is perfect or try as close to perfect as possible.
At the end of the day, Chris, that’s all we can do, is our best. At the end of the day, as long as you can get everything done, you look yourself in the mirror and say, “I did everything I could.” It might not always end up the way you want to. Mother Nature still has a final trump card and you can say, “That was rough. I hope I don’t want to do that again.” At least you say, “I did the best I could.” I can’t fault you for that. I’ve enjoyed this conversation, Chris.
I would like to take our conversation to a different topic and it’s going to be about things that we found, or you have found to increase soybean yields. As I understand, you’ve had some successes in some yield contest with 3722s. I would like to know your journey with that. We’ve chatted in the past in the humic acids, the sugars, and the importance of base saturations. I want your thoughts and theories on some of those topics, and to challenge our readers on how to manage their crop moving forward.
I’m on the show Podfather that’s on-air on RFD-TV. I was blessed in 2020 to be the first Podfather. Our total yield was 158 bushels. Along that way, our 3722 beans did 148.9. These are all scaled tickets, this is not all for yield monitor because as we all know, yield monitors we can make them say or do anything we want them to do by going faster, or slow, just so you can snap a picture and send it to your buddy. We do everything over scales and we double-check everything that we’re doing.
We spend all this money on planter technology, but it’s only as good as the guy sitting behind the wheel.
A lot of the journeys that have taken me along this way, one of the things you’ll always hear me say whenever we talk is if we pick up a farm, an existing farm is Monty’s Liquid Carbon. The humic is such a big important factor in what we’re doing. It is like rehabilitating the soil, making the soil healthy, and getting the soil to work for us. We’re able now to be feeding the microbes and getting the microbes working with us. We do not introduce any new microbes into our mixes.
What we do is feed the biologicals that we currently have. That’s why sugar is important with the carbon. We have the carbon and the sugar together, and now we’re feeding the biology. Another main facet of our operation is money search, which is probably a state-of-the-art fulvic like none other anybody’s ever tried. We use that as our driver. We’re doing Y dropping, or we’re doing foliar applications, or fungicide applications. That has been the one product that we mix with everything we’re doing.
Now there are other things we’re doing. I’m not going to try to get into all that because if you want to join the MACC group, we can discuss that in-depth. Those are the three products that no matter where you hear me talk or what you hear me do, I always promote those products because they are the key products to get us ahead. Those are the ones that have propelled us to get the high-yielding yields. One of the funny things is you hear all these guys talking about humics, “We got a 12%. We got a 14% humic.”
Realistically, 12% and 14% humics are not good humics. They are brown and their water in the jone, is what I like to call them. You can spray them, but they’re not going to give you any yield advantages. Your humics are your 2%, or your 3% humics. Fulvics, they’re the ones that are more available to the soil in our testing that we have found. Those are the ones that are going to be more active. They’re going to be the ones that are going to give you the fast response, the earthworm movement to help break down the biologicals and the residue to help feed your microbes.
One of the biggest things you have going on in your soil, soil is a living, breathing thing. We count base saturations. We’ve got to get our calcium right. We have to make sure our magnesium is in check. Without our potassium level being 4%, we know that we can’t fully function with that plant. Your potassium and calcium are responsible for moving everything up in that plant making it go up and down. These are all the factors that lead to high-yielding production.
Our salt levels, if you have high salts in your soil, your Na, you need to make sure that they’re down below 0.4 or lower, but the fulvics and the humics you use and what Monty’s has brought to the table for us has helped to decrease and make available all this. Calcium and potassium are responsible for water movement in the plant. If your calcium and your potassium aren’t right in that plant and you’re in a drought year, you’re usually the first guy out there in the field to have pineapple corn or curled up leaves on your beans.
That is why all of this is important when we’re going out. Soil testing, I listen to a lot of old guys and they tell me, “We soil test once a year, or once every three years.” A matter of fact is we soil sample three times a year. We even soil sample in season because we want to see what is that soil doing. Our research that’s been able to come back to us, we know what that soil profile is doing throughout the year and what our pH are doing during the growing season. I heard you say, Todd, that you’re a nerd, I promise you, there’s not a bigger one than me because I want to know every facet about farming and everything that we can control. That is why those facets are important in what we’re doing.
It seems like there’s a lot of talk on the humic acids. From your standpoint for folks who are thinking about it, or they’ve known a lot, what does it do in the soil that would benefit a crop on the backside?
If you look at a lot of the benefits of what good humics are doing, and I keep saying Monty’s Carbon because that is a good quality humic. You’re only going to pay for what you get is what I always tell people. I know it’s not going to be the cheapest humic on the market, but it’s the best. What it’s doing is your positive and negatively charged ions that are installed that are bound up, it takes and freeze those. It makes them available to the plant. Just because you’re high in phosphorus, that doesn’t mean that phosphorus is available to the plant, but by not using that humic, it can be tied up, let’s say to a magnesium molecule. You’re taking it and freeing it up and making it plant-available now. It’s a crucial factor. We’re also being able to feed the microbial activity, which is another major step in what we’re doing.
From a sugar standpoint, that’s also being there to feed the microbials, correct?
There’s a lot of different sugars on the market. Are all sugars created equal, or there are particular sugars that people need to be looking for?
What I look at is I want something that’s already liquefied that’s easy for mixability. We’ve tried the Domino Sugar that we got at ￼BJ’s and we melted it down. We’ve tried all those. They don’t stay in suspension. When you’re looking at sugars, we want that liquid sugar that gives us the added advantage and can get into the plant. Not all sugars are created equal. There are different microbial sizes. A lot of guys say, “We use molasses,” or something like that. Fine, great, but you have to realize that the molasses you’re using is taking 6 to 7 weeks to get into that plant. I need something that’s fast-acting.
Think about you throughout the day. You’re getting tired. You’re listening to me talk. You’re starting to fall asleep. What’s the one thing you want to do when you’re hearing me talk? You want to grab a Snickers bar or Coke, high in sugar, something to pep you up. That plant needs the same thing in the middle of the day. That is why I’m looking for sugar. We do multiple sugar applications because I want to push that plant and make that plant be able to keep growing and have the extra carbohydrates to keep moving throughout the day, water movement, nutrient movement, I want that plant to never stop.
I’m sure as you’re out planting and you don’t have the radio going, you’re talking to yourself, listen to the planter, you need that Snickers bar and Coca-Cola to keep you going. You and the planter, there you go. Chris, let’s take another curve on our path here and let’s talk about Liberty. When you and I chatted, you referenced how you’re introducing Liberty or have been introducing Liberty into your crop herbicide rotations and being successful with it.
As we look at a lot of the traits moving forward, Liberty is going to be a major anchor to that. I can remember when Liberty started coming on the market, I was working for Ag retail at the time and I told growers, “It’s going to be similar to glyphosate but it’s a lot different.” I said it’s like having a baseball hat on and putting it on a sombrero. They’re both hats, but they’re both going to be completely different. We need to manage them differently. From your standpoint, what have you found methods or ways to make Liberty successful on your farm?
Some of our biggest screw–ups can often be our biggest successes along this journey.
What we have found in a lot of our testing is glyphosate, your roundup, is a yield inhibitor. It ties up some of your manganese, your Mn, as well as it slows the plant in metabolizing down. We’re losing between 6 to 7 days with that. We went back to old-school chemistry with the caladium and stuff like that for weed control. Years ago, I was one of the first guys in this area because we have Marestail, Palmer amaranth. I go, “We got to be ahead of this. The first trait is not always going to be the answer. That is not going to be the answer because of vegetable production in the area. These are all great things but how can we get ahead?”
We looked at Liberty. It was that one product that we weren’t trying a lot around here, so we jumped into it. What I found out is to mix it with a sulfur source and mix it with a dry AMS. The reason being is because of everything else I say, that is the one product you do want to have a little bit of burn with. You want it to carry through. I know they say they only spray it on sunny days. We sprayed it on cloudy days and never had an issue. We go out and we run about 32 to 34 ounces of Liberty when we spray. We mix it with a dry AMS. We’re spraying 15 to 19 gallons of water when we go to get good coverage.
I always make the comment, “I test the AMS by a cut that’s on my hands. If that AMS puts me on the ground and it makes me cry, you know it’s a good AMS source.” What we found with Liberty is that the dry AMS is our better source than a lot of the liquid AMS on the market. I’m not mocking any, but we’re getting that mid-burn faster. We’re getting to kill the Marestail, the Palmer amaranth. We’re not overusing the product. We’ll go through one time with Liberty and we have weed control on our post-spray. In our pre-spray, we use Paraquat with Authority First or a product like that. We’re getting some weed control out or using Paraquat. We’ve eliminated roundup or glyphosate from most of our applications and trips across the field. I feel that it’s given us that greater advantage on weed control as well as you.
One thing that I’m glad that you referenced as part of your operation is that you are using a pre-upfront. You’re not relying solely on a post-application. To me, all these products out here on the marketplace all serve a purpose. There’s a lot of time investment that goes into breeding herbicide traits in the soybeans and pick whichever one you want. In your situation, you’ve got sensitive crops in your area so you’re limited in what you can do. Eventually, Mother Nature’s going to work against us from a resistance standpoint. We need to manage this the best we can so we have these tools long-term. Otherwise, we’re going to be hurting. There are parts of the country that are hurting from not having some chemistries that can effectively work. I applaud you guys for having residuals out there as well.
Let’s take one other twist here. We hit on the value of selecting varieties and how you guys go through a lot of characteristics of it. It seems like in the last several years, there’s been a big push to plant soybeans earlier as the season will allow. In 2021, based on planting reports, at one point, Illinois was 27% ahead of our five-year average, so a lot of growers are planting early. The Northern tiers of the states had a field-killing frost. There are two thoughts of that, “Do I plant early or do I wait a while so I don’t have frost?” That comes down to risk rewards. We know that planting soybeans early gives us all these advantages, but yet there’s the risk to it. From your standpoint, where do you put the value on planting timely or early, and how do you evaluate that risk associated with it?
We’re blessed that we can run bean planters and corn planters together. They’re separate machines. We’re planting beans and corn simultaneously. I know not all operations can do it that way. We wanted to make sure we could control more the controllables. It goes back to we’re counting our GDUs. We’re looking at the 10 to 12-day forecast. I started planting on May 3rd, 2021 and I thought that was the right time. By May 10th, we’re back down in the 30s and are being sat there in the field. We got a 2.7-inch rain in twenty minutes on some of the ground.
I’m not saying we’re perfect but going out and planting early, I know some operations don’t have a choice and you have to get acres covered. I understand that. However, when you go back and you look and say, “In 2021, I started planting and my beans were planted April 1st are the same height and yield is the same as the beans planted May 1st.” Maybe you need to evaluate that and figure out the stress of the bean that went through May 1st.
I want to make sure from the day I plant to emergence, that bean plant is up and out of the ground between that 7 and 9-day window. That’s tough to do. If we missed that nine-day window, I’m a grump around the farm. I’m grousing and saying, “I know we should have waited. We move too fast here,” but I want those beans to have the start and get up out of the ground. I compliment you and AgriGold because of the genetics that you guys are bringing to the table and the new traits we’re looking at, our corn bean hybrids are far advanced from where they were years ago. They handle some cold tolerance but if you plant them in the right conditions, they’re going to catch up. If you get the right GDUs and the right heat out there and you’re planting in the perfect, those beans planted on May 1st are going to catch up and they’re going to outdo the April planted beans that went through all that stress.
You hear me always say, “Try to eliminate stress in your main crop.” That’s one of them. By going out and planting early, I know you got stuff to do but you got to hold back a little bit to make sure you’re eliminating stress. That’s tough. You got weeds, go spray an extra herbicide pass and make sure your field is clean. Don’t run over those beans. Do your pre-herbicides and your fertility. Make sure you’ve got everything ready so that when it comes time to go, all you’re doing is planting. My take on that is, let’s slow down a little bit and wait for that perfect window to get in there and get the beans rolling.
Chris, more great insight on how to manage that planting window. In 2021 as well as the last several years have been challenging from not having a wide window to plant. There’s a lot of big swings in soil temperatures, air temperatures, and big, massive volumes of rainfall. Let’s face it, if it’s happened for the last years, there’s a good chance that it might happen in 2022. Hopefully, it doesn’t. What we learned for the last years that we can implement in 2022 is to start watching some of these trends. It’s an important insight that you brought to the table there. Chris, I would like to ask if there are any parting words that you would like to share with our readers out there.
There is one, and this is crucial. I heard you say there’s no one silver bullet, but there is and there’s a real crucial silver bullet and unblessed. You heard me talk about it. Todd, I’m going to be picking on you now because we’ve gotten to be friends. The one silver bullet that I’m going to tell everybody that’s reading is to get relationships. What do I mean by that? Get to know your seed guy, your seed company agronomist.
You heard me say that Chris Cooper, Gabe, and John Brien are part of my team. I know Kermicle has retired but John was part of my team. I love seeing him at trade shows and talking to him about stuff. Also, Mike Kavanaugh. I got to know all these guys not by dumb luck because I went up and met them. I introduced myself to them and I said, “I want to know what you guys know.” Relationships are the most important silver bullet.
Get one with an agronomist and one with your fertilizer dealer and bring all your team together. That’s the one silver bullet in all of what you’re doing to help make your operation work. If you get the right team and you stand behind it, AgriGold’s been a big part of our team and success, when you get that team put together, you will be successful on your farm and you’re going to see your yields increase. The team is the most important factor. My parting word is to get a relationship.
With AgriGold, we love talking about agronomy, and most times agronomists get to come out of meetings, but we’re only allowed 15 to 20 minutes to talk. It’s hard for us to cram a lot into that time. Anytime we get an opportunity to talk with growers on good topics, not just because there’s a service coffin and a nasty look and feel for replant, but we’d love to have these conversations. Please allow us to come out and have those conversations with you.
Chris, thanks for bringing that information as far as overall controlling the controllables. The silver bullet is establishing those relationships but also the importance of evaluating products, the importance of soil, biologicals. Try these products out in the marketplace. Also, the importance of how we can tweak that Liberty tank mix and make that whole system viable and sustainable. Overall, I like the fact that you’re calling out the importance of base saturation and soil testing, not only every year, but you’re testing throughout the season to see how these results in a plant’s availability of nutrients can change. The more you know, the better that you can make these decisions for your crop. For that, I thoroughly appreciate you coming on for our show and sharing your insight to achieving higher yields. Thank you, Chris.
Thank you for having me.
- Chris Weaver
- Sagamore Rye Whiskey
- MACC School
- Monty’s Carbon
- John Brien – LinkedIn
- Chris Cooper – LinkedIn
- Brooks Cardinal
- Mike Kavanaugh – LinkedIn
- Monty’s Sugar
- Domino Sugar
- Johnston Carmichael
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