It was perhaps appropriate that during an event held to inform area producers and others in the agriculture industry about the latest findings in the lab and in the field, the rain came early and would not relent.
Although there was plenty of water and mud to go around as the rain was at times a light sprinkle, only to be followed by a torrential downpour, it didn't stop people from attending the Minot Answer Plot Session II, about 8 1/2 miles south of town just off U.S. Highway 83.
Mark Torno, canola marketing manager, and seed and agronomy advisor for Winfield Solutions, first and foremost thanked the packed house seated under the main tent for showing up in less-than-ideal conditions.
Ryan Moeller, regional product manager for Winfield Solutions, holds two stalks of corn during a session at Minot Answer Plot Session II Thursday morning. The session covered how different rates of fertilizer, soil conditions and other factors can affect the growth rate of corn.
Jason Hanson, region agronomist for Winfield Solutions, shows some wheat that has been chemically treated to produce higher protein at the cost of some slight burn Thursday morning at Minot Answer Plot Session II. The session covered different ways to increase protein in wheat.
He said they were trying to bring a lot of the knowledge and work gained from the questions they continually get from producers and dealers to the event.
"What we're trying to do is really pull in a lot of the questions we get challenged with every day. You guys go ask your local seller, they sometimes come to us and say, 'Well what's going on here?' and so forth," Torno said. "And a lot of those things are stuff that we bring into the Answer Plot here and we're gonna be talking about (that) today."
Among the 30-minute sessions was canola, featuring GPS variable hybrid and seeding rate seeding; sunflowers, with new technologies, and insect scouting and controls; soybeans, with follow up on NutriSolutions tissue testing, variety placement and row spacing; corn, with soil structure water holding capacity and a new deep root pit showing the roots of corn in the field; wheat, focusing on post applied protein modification and an adjuvants demo; and a biotechnology session focusing on new products coming in the next few years as well as the next decade.
Although the location of the plots is permanent and grass had been grown to keep down on mud, participants still had to carefully navigate from the tents each session was held under in order to keep somewhat clean.
At the corn session, Ryan Moeller, regional product manager for Winfield Solutions, displayed a newly dug root pit that showed off the root systems of a section of planted corn. He noted there are two kinds of root systems - a penetrating root system that anchors the plant in heavy soils and a fibrous root system that can effectively extract moisture from lighter soils.
"We're gonna get right down to what really matters this time of year, and it's all about the root system," Moeller said.
Planting corn with penetrating roots, which generally go downward and spread out less, in light soil can be bad during dry periods because the plant can't get at enough moisture, while putting corn with fibrous roots into a heavy soil is bad because the roots can't spread out. Moeller said this can be an especially difficult problem with fields that contain both types of soil.
He then went on to detail flexed-ear hybrid corn and fixed-ear hybrid corn.
"Guys, when I talk about flexed-ear hybrids or fixed-ear hybrids, I don't care about the ears. What I care about is the plant," Moeller said.
He noted flexed-ear hybrids can "flip a switch" depending on what the environment is. A plant can detect how much moisture and nutrients the soil contains, as well as the density of neighboring plants. If soil conditions are good and there aren't many neighbors, it will flip the switch and stretch out its root system to grow as big as possible. If soil conditions aren't as good or there are many neighboring plants, it reins things in and doesn't grow as big so it can remain as healthy as possible.
Fixed-ear hybrids, on the other hand, grow about the same rate regardless of soil conditions and the population density of surrounding plants. He said this isn't a good plant for low population areas because it can't take advantage of the extra space available, but it can respond better to higher populations where space is at a premium.
Jason Hanson, region agronomist for Winfield Solutions, said wheat is the biggest acreage they deal with in his territory in the state, which is why they have a sizable wheat plot there.
"There's 6.7 million acres of wheat in North Dakota, 1.8 million acres of durum, and just under a million acres of barley put in this year," Hanson said. "So cereals are a big thing.
"The second reason we got it (wheat) in here is because we need a rotation because of our canola and our sunflowers, to keep our disease issues from becoming a problem."
He said the biggest question he has received this year hasn't been about disease, but protein.
"My phone started ringing off the hook at that boot stage because of protein," Hanson said. "Anybody raise big bushels, low pro (protein) 2009? How many guys still got low pro in the bin?"
Laughter ran through the tent and one producer said he'd rather not talk about it. Hanson said the protein issue is what they are trying to address with their wheat plots.
He said the top wheat variety in North Dakota the past three years has been Glenn, while Faller, which is notorious for big yields and low protein, is number two. The variety they have planted is Samson, which is a good variety that is susceptible to head scab. On top of that, it is planted in corn ground, which makes for a bad combination. This does, however, give them the opportunity to try different treatments to see what works.
"The most consistent thing we found in wheat this year was two nutrients - copper, sulfur," Hanson said. "Sulfur is by far the most efficient nutrient on every crop in the state. Sulfur is one of the components of amino acids that helps build protein."
He said sulfur is generally put on canola, but isn't used all the much for wheat.
Although nutrients are important, so is fighting disease. As far as the fungicides used to do that go, he said Prosaro produced the cleanest plants in their test plots.
Hanson said they sprayed 28 percent nitrogen cut with water in the morning to boost protein. Although there was some burn, he noted the protein increase was well worth it.
"Most of the time, the research that's out there that's done, from a protein standpoint the big thing you gotta pay attention to, one is the hybrid or the variety you put on there, and you gotta pay attention to the growing conditions for the year and how to manage around that," Hanson said. "Because we are probably gonna be a higher yield potential this year again, so our chance of yield is up, our chance of protein is gonna probably start coming down.
"The third thing is, NDSU's research, University of Minnesota, probably a 70 to 80 percent chance that you'll succeed in getting a protein bump of at least a half percent. The one thing I would suggest people do this fall is get out and soil test."