Soybean, corn and tobacco field day held


PRINCETON, Ky. – From market expectations to pesticides to cover crops, the University of Kentucky Martin-Gatton College of Agriculture, Food, and Environment provided an extensive list of topics at the Corn, Soybean, and Tobacco Field Day held at the Princeton Research and Education Center Farm on July 25. 

The field day groups were divided into corn, soybean, and tobacco sessions. The nearly 200 attendees attended two commodity sessions before reassembling together for a general review of the center’s progress.

Evidence of the center’s recovery from the tornado of 2021 is the new construction throughout the field day stops on the east side of Hopkinsville Street. The field day planners were hampered by a torrential thunderstorm of 2.5 inches the day before, blowing down tents and leaving standing water throughout the farm. The gathering space for the event moved to a machinery shed, and the field day planners regrouped with the resiliency that is a continual part of the center’s operation.

At the corn discussion, Dr. Rick Bessin explained the Non-Certified Applicator of pesticides. This new category of applicator went into effect in December 2022, and NCAs can work under the direct supervision of certified private applicators along with annual training records. 

Bessin emphatically said that the NCA cannot apply restricted-use pesticides but only “general use” pesticides, which are considered unclassified and do not carry a restricted-use label. 

Dr. John Grove discussed his work involving nitrogen fixation products for corn. The agronomy and plant science specialist said several different research studies saw low positive benefits. Grove said his message is that growers need to be skeptical about these products and their claims, particularly regarding reducing fertilizer end rate. 

Dr. Grant Gardner, the new University of Kentucky commodity grain market specialist, discussed a topic of particular interest - what’s happening in the grain market. Soybeans and corn are essential to the Kentucky economy, contributing $3 billion annually, and worldwide events as well as the weather can have a direct effect on income. 

Davis showed detailed graphs of projected production acres, pricing, and how weather and the war in Ukraine, especially the recent bombing of an essential Black Sea port, caused price fluctuations. He pointed out that Brazil, a major export competitor with the United States, was predicting a bumper crop yield. 

He concluded that markets are moved by Midwestern weather, exports are at a pre-trade-war level, soybean crushes are expanding but stunted by EPA and RFS, and the Russian-Ukraine war. He said that increases and decreases in soybean and corn acreage have differing effects, and neither market is bearish or bullish, but soybeans appear to have upside potential. He also pointed out that increased interest rates affect all farm activities, and farmers feel the effects of double the interest rates with storage costs. 

Standing in front of a small tobacco demonstration area, Dr. Andy Bailey, extension tobacco Sspecialist, was the lone presenter at the tobacco session. He said tobacco research began at the Center in 1925, and the first building built at the Ccenter was a tobacco barn. But the tornado wiped out all the tobacco infrastructure except one building. 

He gave an overview of statewide tobacco production, which generated $240 million for the economy, down significantly from tobacco’s high production days. He noted that burley tobacco production is moving west, and dark air and dark-fired tobacco are still western Kentucky staples and the only place in the world that grows these eyes of dark tobacco. He also pointed out the increase in Connecticut Cigar Wrapper tobacco production. He also said that most producers grow two types, and an increasing number are growing all four. 

He discussed several of the restrictions on growing tobacco. Black shank, he said, is still out there but is controlled with the use of fungicides and patch rotation. He said the Connecticut wrapper is a very high-risk crop. As expected, the large, broad leaf must be flawless, and flea beetles and weather can wreak havoc on a prime crop. He also pointed out that tobacco is shipped to Europe and Africa, and those countries expressed concern over pesticides residues.

With the decrease in tobacco production statewide, he cautioned producers that the number of specialists, agronomists, and pathologists working exclusively in tobacco has also decreased. Only six specialists nationwide are devoted to tobacco, working together to do whatever the growers need. He said even with limited numbers, there is considerable research in pesticides, fungicides, and sucker control. 

He said there was significant work with curing. He pointed out that we can do nothing to make a safe product. We can work toward harm reduction. Two chemical constituents in tobacco called specific nitrosamines form during the curing process. He said there is extensive research during curing that may reduce these compounds, but complete elimination is impossible. 

 He pointed out that 2/3two-thirds of crop production is labor and half of that comes after harvest. Researchers are working to reduce the costs of stripping and preparing tobacco for the market.

The newly constructed dark-fired barn is very different from current dark-fired barns. The new barn is entirely metal and offers a highly controlled “firing” process with limited vents and airflow. When using an open fire, limiting direct airflow is critical within the firing process. 

After the second session, participants gathered back in the machinery shed tent for a question and answer session on the crop season with Dr. Andy Bailey, Dr. Chad Lee, and Jonathon Reynolds of the Kentucky Soybean Board. Lee provided the news that everyone was interested in hearing – an update on the construction of the new Research Center buildings. Lee said the main building, the new student housing, and the new field labs will begin construction in 2024. Lee noted that JRA Architects expects a ribbon cutting on the center in 2025 with full occupancy. 

By Toni Riley

Field Reporter

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