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February farming tips from the field

TFC’s agronomists offer right-now regional advice and industry insight for Tennessee producers
By Sarah Geyer 1/26/2017


February in Tennessee usually includes at least one substantial snowfall. Even though their fields may be white and frozen, much like those on this Middle Tennessee farm, producers statewide are finalizing their pre-planting plans and making crucial late-winter decisions this month in preparation for the upcoming growing season.
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Whether they’re raising row crops in Dyer County or forages and hay in Jonesborough, Tennessee producers know preparation is the key to a successful growing season.

February is typically a time when farmers, as a part of pre-planting planning, face important choices regarding soil fertility, last-minute seed selections, and weed control. Common late-winter farming decisions like these, says Alan Sparkman, manager of agronomy marketing for Tennessee Farmers Cooperative, have become more complex with new, rapidly evolving agronomic technologies.

“We are fortunate to have all of these new technologies available, but at the same time, it’s a challenge for growers and retailers to keep pace with all the changes and advances,” says Sparkman. “Among the strengths of our Co-op system are the talented and experienced ag professionals who assist growers in putting these new products and cropping systems in place to help them be more successful.”

Here, five members of TFC’s regional agronomy team share advice for farming during the month of February as well as their insights on the industry’s newest practices and programs:

Tom Bible

East Tennessee agronomist

I encourage all producers to take soil samples and pay particular attention to micronutrient deficiencies, including boron, sulfur, magnesium, and zinc. They are as important to plant nutrition as potassium and nitrogen, though plants don’t require as much of them. A lack of any one of the micronutrients in the soil can limit growth, even when all other major nutrients are present in adequate amounts.

With the loss of lots of pasture last year due to dry weather and drought, many farmers are talking about reseeding this month. For forage seed planted in the spring, now’s the time to make those seed decisions. I suggest producers consider overseeding clover as part of their pasture renovation. Now’s an excellent time to broadcast clover, and it provides lots of benefits when building a new stand — including producing nitrogen that can be used by the grasses, too.

Brett Jones

Middle Tennessee agronomist

Ideally, farmers place their row crop seed orders during the fall months. But with the uncertainty around weed control and commodity prices, I expect some producers may still be trying to make up their minds about which crops to grow. Ordering seed in February can be tricky, especially when you start looking at specific varieties, because the supply can be limited. Seed orders definitely need to be made in February, the sooner the better. I suggest growers work with their local Co-op agronomist to find the hybrid or variety that is best for their needs — one that will perform well in their region and in their particular fields. Regardless of when those seed decisions are made, getting the right seed on the right acre is crucial.

In the wake of the drought, Middle Tennessee cattle producers experienced a lot of grass loss in pastures and hayfields. Many of them are still trying to decide how much fescue actually survived, but most of the fields will require some type of renovation either this spring or in the fall. Typically, spring-seeded fescue doesn’t do nearly as well as that sown in the fall, so some producers might be considering planting summer annuals, which usually require additional fertility. Whether farmers plan to renovate their pastures and hayfields this spring or in the fall, fertility has to be the first consideration. Growers looking at spring or summer seeding should take soil samples this month to deal with any fertility issues.

Brandon Sheridan

Lower West Tennessee agronomist

Fertility is on most farmers’ minds during these pre-season months. Important components to consider when determining a fertility plan should include the nutrient’s form, application method, soil variability, hybrid/variety needs, and tissue-sampling, When it comes to West Tennessee’s crop mix, a one-size-fits-all fertility plan will not suffice. Producers need to consider a fertility plan that includes dry broadcast applications, liquid UAN, and foliar product applications. WinField offers a variety of solutions to assist in planning the supplemental nutrient program such as a foliar plant nutrition product line, the R7® tool, and NutriSolutions 360®.

“As producers are finalizing their planting plans for the upcoming season, even though commodity prices are important, I believe crop rotation, weed resistance, and disease are just as important factors that should be considered when making those crop mix decisions. At the end of the day, the return on investment is what will make the 2017 season a success.

Trevor Smith

Upper West Tennessee agronomist

This year, producers may be considering alternate sources of nitrogen, and part of our goal is to educate people about the different forms. If you choose urea, keep it from leaching with a stabilizer product such as NutriSphere-N. Since this might be a new product to some famers, I’d recommend they call us or their local Co-op for advice specific to their operations.

Many of the farmers in West and Middle Tennessee are fighting the battle against resistant weeds and looking for a cost-effective program that will provide good weed control in their crops. New seed-trait technology and herbicide formulations have recently been introduced into the market to address the growing weed-resistance problem; it is essential that we educate ourselves and make the best choices when considering the herbicide programs and platforms that are out there.

Sparkman stresses that with the recent state approval of this new weed control technology, farmers are bearing an additional burden.

“Education will be critical as producers consider using these newly approved chemicals, and stewardship of these products is key,” he says. “Your local (Co-op) agronomy experts are available for education and advice.”

Pre-season farming preparation often includes important input decisions, many of which have become even more complicated this year with both the opportunity for more options and the uncertainty of the commodities market, Sparkman explains.

“There’s one constant on which Tennessee farmers can continue to depend,” he says. “That’s their Co-op system and its trained and knowledgeable agronomy experts who are ready to help them navigate through these changing times with specific, sound recommendations for the best return on their investment.”

For more information, email Tom Bible at; Brett Jones at; Brandon Sheridan at; Julia Shell at; or Trevor Smith at

Ag technology update — know, sow, grow with Incompass

Julia Shell

TFC agronomy technology specialist

The adoption rate of Incompass, the Co-op precision ag program, continues to grow across Tennessee. Variable-rate crop nutrients have always been the cornerstone of our precison ag program. Using grid- or zone-based soil-sampling allows growers to be more efficient with placement of crop nutrients.

New for 2017, the Incompass program offers an iPad-based scouting program that provides crop specialists more precision while scouting fields. For example, they can record field observations in an electronic format and email the scouting reports right from the field.

A new recordkeeping program is being introduced so that retailers and growers can add field events — including as-applied crop input maps, scouting records, yield data, and planting and harvest information — into a central database. Reports can be generated to track crop inputs and meet regulatory compliance needs.

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