Crop and Pest Management School

The Agronomy team has started out the New Year with a trip to Bozeman to attend the annual Montana State University Department of Agriculture Crop & Pest Management School. This year, the school focused on pulse crops, with special attention paid to alfalfa cultivation, herbicide mixes in peas and lentils, and the benefits of using a pulse cover crop between your wheat rotations. Here’s a brief rundown of the key topics covered.

Safflower, millet, and other cereal forages are great alternatives to pulse crops when you are looking for something that has both feed and forage traits. Cereal forages are great for March calvers, but always be mindful of nitrates. Options include barley, triticale, oats, or another of the previously mentioned forages to add tonnage and nutrition to your operation. Remember to plant a cereal forage with enough sulfur to combat the buildup of nitrates in the fresh growth. Plants can’t make proteins out of nitrates without sulfur, so having an appropriate fertilizer plan for the spring is essential.
This year, even the experts have no idea what the hay markets are going to be, so it’s important to fall back on the basics of getting the most out of your alfalfa stand. You make your profit on alfalfa by maximizing your yield, so this should be a primary focus. Costs of production always seem to be rising, so preparing your ground and having a pest management and fertilizer plan in place is crucial to not losing money on your investment.

Dr. Emily Glunk, the new MSU Extension Forage Specialist, gave a great review of fall forage management. Only 9-10% of the plants in a pasture will support your animals, so it is crucial that you take care of your pastures and allow them to rest and prepare for winter. Make your last cut of alfalfa at full bloom with at least 30 days before a killing frost; you can harvest again after several days of freezing weather. The goal is to maximize alfalfa root development going into winter. Poor root development leads to winter damage and kill, which can severely impact the yield and quality of your alfalfa stand. Remember to pick a variety with an appropriate fall dormancy rating and seed in the spring. You can seed in the summer, but only if you have irrigation. Fall seeding can be risky if the seedling does not receive enough moisture to achieve at least 6 inches of growth before the first killing frost.

Dr. Clain Jones spoke about the serious issue of nitrate leaching and the status of our ground and surface water sources in the Judith basin. With agriculture as the primary source of excess nitrates in our water and we should be using Best Management Practices to reduce leaching and runoff. One of the simplest, and arguably least expensive, ways to prevent nitrate leaching is to use a pulse cover crop instead of leaving your fields fallow. Over 300 producers in the Judith basin participated in a study showing that putting down a pulse cover crop not only prevented leaching but also saved the producer money. In many cases, they made a small profit of ~$35/acre by planting peas instead of leaving their fields fallow.

The rest of the school sessions focused on learning to identify crop insect pests from beneficials and to accurately identify plant pests. The school ran all day the 4th and 5th and the morning of the 6th. Producers, agri-business professionals, and extension agents were all in attendance, and the talks were all geared towards practical application and education. The Agronomy team will be going next year; the anticipated topic is cereals. No matter what this next year throws at us, the Westland Seed has the tools, time, and expertise to help you have a profitable year.