Farmers go high tech at Commodity Classic
CENTREVILLE — About 250 grain farmers, researchers and agribusiness providers from the Mid-Shore counties and across Maryland and Delaware gathered Thursday, July 27, for the 19th annual Maryland Commodity Classic at Queen Anne’s 4-H Park near Centreville.
Researchers demonstrated how “precision ag” — from drone technology to environmentally friendly fertilization and pest control to smartphones for tracking irrigation effectiveness — can augment old-fashioned field scouting to increase crop yields.
Maryland farmers also got a collective pat on the back from agricultural leaders who applauded efforts to help save the Chesapeake Bay through effective and cost-saving practices.
“The new generation of farmers is very technologically advanced,” said James Adkins, a researcher with the University of Delaware. “The old guy on the tractor is gone.”
And yet the older generation is adopting high-tech ag.
“You wouldn’t think old farmers would be doing this kind of stuff,” John Bruning said.
He’s a young corn and soybean farmer from Snow Hill who said updates in changing technology were his takeaways during the morning session.
The all-day event gave grain growers a chance to hear the latest research they paid for with their “checkoff dollars,” a percentage they allocate to the U.S. Department of Agriculture from the sale of their commodities. The USDA then redistributes the pooled funds back to local grain boards to create a stronger impact than could be achieved by individual farmers.
About 17 agricultural commodities have checkoff programs, Susanne Zilberfarb said. She is the incoming executive director of the Maryland Soybean Board.
“There’s a mandatory checkoff with soybeans with .5 of one percent coming out of sales. That’s 50 cents out of every $100 that goes into a special USDA fund to sponsor research, marketing and education,” Zilberfarb said.
The Maryland Grain Checkoff Program is designed “to expand the demand for grain through marketing, research, education, and promotion,” according to the Maryland Grain Producers Utilization Board based in Centreville.
The MGPUB hosted the event with the Maryland Grain Producers Association, Maryland Soybean Board and Mid-Atlantic Soybean Association.
Nearly 40 sponsors supported the event and exhibited their research, services and products, and included crop insurance agencies, local banks, seed companies and other agri-services organizations.
The day began at 9:30 a.m. with presentations by researchers from University of Maryland and University of Delaware Extension Offices, whose projects were funded by checkoff dollars. About 30 attended the hour-long session.
Seed testing, mainly with wheat varieties, was the topic of research presented by Dr. Jason Wight of the UMD plant science department. About nine varieties were leading performers at the Wye Research Center, he said.
While a Dyna-Gro variety led the pack at at yield of 80.2, Wight said, “There’s a lot of yield potential around the 74.2 range,” one of the lowertier Pioneer varieties. “The good news is there is there are quite a few varieties for dual use” for both grain and straw, Wight said.
In a project funded by both boards, Dr. Kelly Hamby of UMD’s entomology department presented research on the impact of repeated use of neonicotinoid treated seed in grain crop rotations on nontarget invertebrates and soil microbes.
The three-year study from 2015 to 2017 used untreated seeds, fungicide-only treatments, Gaucho insecticide with its fungicides and Cruiser insecticide with its fungicides.
Researchers found Cruiser was better at controlling thrips, including predatory thrips, leaphoppers, grubs and wireworms. For winter wheat grown at the Wye Research Center, “a fungicideonly control was as effective,” Hamby said.
James Adkins of UDE’s plant science department, said research on irrigating for high intensity corn production was developed using sensors, grids and selected nozzles. Data was collected and analyzed every morning from 200 locations.
“Perhaps the main conclusion that can be drawn is that (2013 to 2015) were ideal corn production years with little natural moisture stress,” Adkins wrote in his findings. “In order to draw a relevant conclusion from this project continued research in a year with inadequate rainfall for corn production is necessary.”
“If you’re in doubt, go ahead and irrigate,” Adkins told the audience. “You can put a full inch (of water) on at the cost of a bushel of corn.”
While Dr. Bob Kratochvil of UMD and Dr. Nathan Kleczewski of UDE said they were “still crunching the data,” their research nitrogen and fungicide use on wheat yielded some preliminary conclusions.
Increasing nitrogen can increase vomitoxin, as it did in one test location, but it also can increase protein by 1 percent. “Scouting your crop is important,” Kratochvil said. “Pay attention to the particulars and variety of wheat.”
“All research is good,” said third-generation farmer William Layton of Lazy Day Farms in Vienna. “It’s research that’s important to us. We put so much less fertilizer on fields than we did 50 years ago — even 20 years ago. We’re continually using less and less, and growing more and more.”
“It’s a win-win all around,” Layton said. “I want the same things as environmentalists.”
Throughout the day, farmers milled about exhibits and caught up with each other.
“This is a social event, too,” Zilberfarb said. “Crops are in the ground and wheat is cut, so farmers get a chance to take a day off, see their neighbors, learn and network.”
Inside the exhibit hall, Adkins demonstrated the use of drone technology in scouting fields and analyzing a variety of data such as deer damage, planter issues and flooding. “Precision ag ... can reduce input loss and yield environmental benefits,” he said.
Queen Anne’s County Extension Agent Jenny Rhodes explained how county seventh-graders learned about agriculture and aquaculture at Ag Awareness Day activities on April 24 and 25. “Our job was to dispel myths,” Rhodes said.
Among other facts, middle school students learned crayons are made of soybeans and one bushel of corn makes 40 snack bags of corn chips like Doritos.
The afternoon program that began at 1 p.m. in the covered Main Show Ring outdoors featured awards, a panel discussion from local grains leaders and a keynote presentation by Annapolis science teacher Stephan Neidenbach.
Sudlersville farmer and MGPUB President Jennie Schmidt presented four recipients with Maryland Grain Producers Utilization Board 2017 college scholarships. Two are Mid-Shore residents: Jenell Eck of Ingleside and Jamie Hetrick of Preston. Cody Morris of Parsonsburg and Andrew Bauer of Dayton, Howard County, also won scholarships.
Dale Morris received the 30th Dr. James R. Miller Award. Established in 1988, this award annually recognizes a professional for his or her long-term contributions to the grain industry.
Morris is program manager of the Maryland Department of Agriculture Turf and Seed Administration.
Presenter Kevin Anderson said Morris had three passions: his wife and three children, his church and his 39-year career in agronomy.
“He’s touched everybody in this room that produces crops in Maryland,” Anderson said.
“(Along with others) Dale has made Maryland the toughest state for seed regulation issues in the country,” Anderson said. “One of his mottoes is ... if his name or the state of Maryland’s name is associated with something, it’s going to be done to the letter of the law.”
“I’ve had a few run-ins with Dale, and I’ve come to see his side,” Anderson said. “When he says, ‘I’m from the government, and I’m here to help,’ he means that.”
Last year’s award-winner was Cordova farmer Chip Councell, chairman of the U.S. Grains Council.
Schmidt highlighted the work of the 26-year-old checkoff program, telling the audience of over 100 that 95 percent of the $20 million dollars collected was used from the research, marketing and education.
Cordova farmer Travis Hutchison, chairman of the Maryland Soybean Board and Maryland Commodity Classic co-chairman, catalogued the research, best practices and educational initiatives of the MSB.
Hutchison announced Sandy Davis, who has been executive director for 37 years, will step down and Susanne Zilberfarb will take over.
Vince Phillips, who worked on President Ronald Reagan’s transition team, is the Mid-Atlantic Soybean Association’s executive director and chief lobbyist. Phillips stressed the distinction between the Maryland Soybean Board and the association he directs.
“The board doesn’t lobby or influence public policy,” Phillips said. “The association lobbies like crazy.”
“Soybeans are not only an important economic resource, they also represent the vitality of the Maryland farming community,” Phillips said.
Phillips and other afternoon speakers stressed the importance of keeping pressure on legislators in Washington, D.C. Congress needs to hear from farmers on issues like the farm bill, funding the USDA, opening Cuba as a market for agricultural commodities and strengthening crop insurance and risk management needs, they said.
Jon Doggett, executive vice president for public policy for the National Corn Growers Association, urged the audience to get involved and call legislators.
He said hot political rhetoric, as well as pressures from well-funded small government lobbying groups on the right and environmental activist organizations on the left, have created the need for advocacy from agricultural commodities producers who need more, not fewer markets.
When Doggett asked the audience to pull out their cell phones and add a phone number, many did. He gave out the phone number of U.S. Senate Agricultural Committee member and U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md. “He’s going to representing your interests,” Doggett said.
Washington County farmer and Maryland Grain Producers Association President Steve Ernst commended executive director Lindsay Thompson of Centreville for the advocacy work she and her staff are doing.
“We’re uniquely blessed in this state to have all different kinds of agricultural organizations and an ag department that works well with us,” Ernst said.
“Ag is increasingly less important to the general population, but in Maryland land use and soil use and the effect they have on the Chesapeake Bay, and the things we do are most important,” Ernst said.
“Someone from Pennsylvania asked me, ‘How come you’re not under the same pressure as we are to clean up the Chesapeake Bay?’ I said, ‘Because you’re the problem and I’m not,” Ernst said as the audience laughed and applauded.
“We’re doing an awfully good job in Maryland,” Ernst said. “We’ve been behind effort to practice stewardship with practicality.”
“Mid-Atlantic growers are in an uniquely advantageous situation,” said Kratochvil, Maryland Commodity Classic chairman. “Making up the Leaders Panel on the afternoon program are four national farm organization leaders who make Maryland or Delaware their home.”
Comprising the panel were Thompson; Councell; Jason Scott of Easton, who is chairman of U.S. Wheat Associates; and Greenwood, Del., farmer Richard Wilkins, chairman of the American Soybean Association.
The 3 p.m. presentation by Neidenbach, who in the past taught science at Centreville Middle School, was titled “We Love GMOs and Vaccines: Biotech for a Brighter Tomorrow.” He promotes science-based information on agricultural biotechnology and engages in conversations with environmentalists to “counter mis-information” about genetically modified organisms and vaccines.
The day ended with the popular crab feast, and pork and chicken barbecue catered by Paul Gunther.
Follow me on Twitter @ connie_stardem.
Grain farmers of all ages spent a day learning about new agricultural research and best practices at the 19th Commodity Classic on Thursday, July 27, at the Queen Anne’s 4-H Park near Centreville.
Recipients of the 2017 Maryland Grain Producers Utilization Board college scholarships are, from left, Jenell Eck of Ingleside, Andrew Bauer of Dayton, Jamie Hetrick of Preston and Cody Morris of Parsonsburg (not pictured).
Kevin Anderson, left, presented Maryland Department of Agriculture agronomist Dale Morris the 2017 Dr. James R. Miller Award at the Maryland Commodity Classic on July 27 in Centreville. Established in 1988, this award annually recognizes a professional for his or her long-term contributions to the grain industry.