MAPLE PARK, Ill. — Although he has not found tar spot in his cornfields yet, Steve Pitstick will spray a fungicide for prevention of the disease.
“We’ve had tar spot since 2018,” said Pitstick who farms about 5,000 acres of corn and soybeans near Maple Park in northern Illinois. “It was really bad the first year and it has not been that severe since.”
The cornfields will be sprayed by an airplane or helicopter.
“Spraying fungicides is a planned operation on 90% to 100% of our acres and this year it will be 100%,” Pitstick said.
“Some years there’s too much drown out in the field and the fungicide is not worth it because the plane still flies the whole field, so the payback is tougher,” he said.
The goal for spraying fungicides is to keep the plant alive longer.
“You can stop the infection, but you can’t fix dead tissue,” Pitstick said.
Pitstick is considering the addition of drones to his operation to gain control of when he applies products to his cornfields.
“I started looking at drones in 2014 and I knew I would incorporate them at some point in the future,” Pitstick said.
“With more and more farmers doing fungicide applications, that is stressing the timeliness of aerial applicators,” he said. “I like the idea of two drones, so one is flying while I’m reloading the second one and then I should be able to do about 40 acres an hour.”
During the summer months Pitstick is working on rebuilding corn heads, updating grain handling facilities and preparing for the fall marathon.
“We are trying to get everything ready including grain carts and semis and part of that is because of the supply chain,” he said. “We are starting early for equipment prep because you never know.”
The farmer is also attending field days that are mostly focused on agronomy.
“I’m looking for potential ways to improve the way we do things such as planter systems, herbicides, nitrogen applications or weed control,” he said. “The industry is always changing and bringing new things so we need to stay aware of what’s out there.”
It is important not to be stagnant, Pitstick stressed.
“We’re always looking for ways to improve even if it’s minor,” he said.
Pitstick, who recently was re-elected to his second term as the chairman of the Illinois Soybean Association, traveled to Washington during July to meet with U.S congressmen.
“We were there to thank them for what they’ve done and to talk about the 2023 farm bill,” Pitstick said.
“We’re continuing to ask for support of the crop insurance program, which is a great backstop for us,” he said. “It doesn’t assure profitability, but it keeps us from going broke.”
For example, many farmers have a 15% or 20% deductible for their crop insurance.
“In today’s operation, that’s $200 per acre, so if you’re farming 2,000 acres, that’s a $400,000 deductible before crop insurance kicks in,” Pitstick said.
In August, Pitstick and a group of ISA board members will travel to the Delmarva Peninsula on the East Coast to look at conservation practices that have been established there.
“We want to get a handle on what they’re doing to remediate runoff and improve water quality,” he said. “Their practices are way more intensive than we’ll ever be, but we’re trying to get a sense of what they’re doing.”
Insects have not been a problem in Pitstick’s fields so far this year.
“I can go out in the field and find some Japanese beetles, but they’re pretty dispersed. I’m sure there are some aphids, but it hasn’t been dry enough for spider mites,” he said.
However, the corn rootworm issue has not gone away.
“I have a test plot in the middle of a 200-acre second-year corn-on-corn field,” Pitstick said. “I planted hybrids with all the different traits and there are significant differences between the trait platforms.”
The Kane County farmer has done strip trials on his farm for many years.
“It takes some time, but I encourage farmers to do a trial of nothing,” he said. “Go into a field in an area where you would put a show plot and combine each strip as if it was a test plot, but everything is the same.”
Pitstick has done this trial twice on his farm.
“The strip to strip natural variability will shock you,” he predicted. “It is anywhere from 2% to 10 % and it’s not linear. This is something that will wake up every farmer to strip trials.”
With yield monitors and GPS, Pitstick said, it is easy for any farmer to do a strip trial.
“It will give you confidence in your farm and how you do things with this valuable learning,” he said.
The maturity of soybeans planted by Pitstick has changed significantly over the years.
“Twenty-five years ago, 2.5 or 2.6 maturity soybeans were about as late as we could go here partly because we were burning them with post-emerge herbicides for weed control that set them back seven to 10 days, plus we had combines that couldn’t harvest them unless the beans were dead ripe,” he said.
Now, Pitstick plants soybeans up to 3.6 maturity.
“We’ve got machines that can combine them and I don’t want all my beans ready on the same day,” he said. “We’re planting 2.4 to 3.6 beans and we can roll into them as they get ready versus having them all ready on the same day and then some of them are harvested at 8% moisture.”
“There are all kinds of opportunities if we think differently,” Pitstick said.