Farmers continue to fine-tune their crop nutrient applications beyond traditional N-P-K (nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium) fertilizer content in an effort to boost yields and incomes. Some farmers now routinely apply micronutrients as seed treatments or in starter fertilizer, near the seed, to help boost early growth and plant health.

Micronutrient deficiencies vary by soil type (particularly sandy soils), pH, soil conditions and region. Combining soil test analysis with visual inspections and plant analysis is the best way to accurately determine whether any micronutrients are a limiting factor to yields in specific fields. Besides N, P, & K, possible nutrient deficiencies in corn and soybeans in various parts of the Midwest include sulfur, zinc, manganese, boron, copper, calcium, magnesium, iron, and molybdenum. -John Pocock

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Next-generation soybean traits

High-yielding soybeans with new, herbicide- and insect-resistant traits are on their way. Monsanto hopes to make Roundup Ready 2 Xtend soybeans available in 2014. The product offers both dicamba- and glyphosate-tolerance. Monsanto is also developing several in-seed, insect protection products, and an additional, second-generation soybean product with boosted yield potential through gene insertion.

In January, DuPont Pioneer announced the launch of its new T Series line of soybean to bring a broad range of high-yielding varieties with improved pest resistance.

In addition, Bayer CropScience and Syngenta recently submitted applications for a new soybean trait that offers tolerance to Callisto, Balance and Liberty herbicides. This trait is expected to launch between 2015 and 2020.

Dow AgroSciences announced the anticipated launch of Enlist E3 soybeans for 2015, pending U.S. and import country approvals. Enlist E3 soybeans will offer tolerance to Dow AgroSciences’ new 2,4-D product, glyphosate and glufosinate.

Many seed companies continue to work on new traits that are resistant to soybean aphids, soybean cyst nematodes, Asian soybean rust and Phytophthora root rot. -John Pocock

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Nitrogen-loss protection products
Nitrogen needs to be available to corn roots throughout the growing season for producing top yields and income. A number of nitrogen inhibitors, stabilizers and controlled release products are now on the market to help farmers control the release of N in the field.

Dow AgroSciences' N-Serve has long been the industry standard for reducing N loss from anhydrous ammonia, dry ammonium and urea fertilizers. Dow AgroSciences also offers Instinct, which reduces N leaching and denitrification from urea ammonium nitrate (UAN) and liquid manure.

Other companies providing newer N-loss protection products include:
Agrium offers a controlled-released N fertilizer product, called ESN (Environmentally Smart Nitrogen). Agrotain markets three formulations (Agrotain, Agrotain Plus, and SuperU) to help reduce N loss for various N products. AgXplore International produces several N-loss reduction products, including its original product, NZone. SFP (Specialty Fertilizer Products) sells two products, NutriSphere-N and More Than Manure, to help reduce N loss in N fertilizer and manure. -John Pocock

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Nutrient sensors
Sophisticated sensors are now used to detect nutrient levels in crops for the precise application of nitrogen fertilizer. The sensors emit light onto the crop canopy and measure the amount of light reflected back to the sensor. The information is used to determine the crop's nitrogen requirements. Several companies market these sensors. Topcon Precision Agriculture sells CropSpec for liquid sprayers or granular spreaders. It is used with Topcon’s X20 console and linked to the Maplink program.
Trimble now offers a handheld version of its GreenSeeker crop sensor that the company first released in 2009. The older system was mounted on a tractor.
The OptRx crop sensors from AgLeader may be mounted on any type of vehicle and is available for corn and wheat production. -Kathy Huting

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Ownership of farmland
In spite of the huge rise in farmland values, the majority of farmland remains in the hands of farmers and their families. (USDA reports that less than 40% of farmland is rented.)
Increasingly, the owners are elderly. A 2007 Iowa State University (ISU) survey found that 28% of the state’s farmland was owned by someone older than 74 years. ISU’s Michael Duffy suggests that this does not mean more land will become available for purchase and dampen values. Instead, he speculates that the land will be transferred to families. But what happens with the next generation is the big question.

The majority of farmland sold today is purchased by farmers. In Iowa, 70% of farmland sold in 2010 was bought by farmers. In Illinois, 56% of farmland sold that year was purchased by farmers.

Foreign ownership of farmland remains minor. USDA’s Farm Service Agency reports foreign ownership of farms and forests amounts to only 1.7% of private land. -Karen McMahon

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