From Crop Yield Calculations to Ag Soil Testing: A Farmer’s Woulda’, Coulda’, Shoulda’
Apart from the impacts of a devastating Midwest derecho that flattened millions of acres of corn across Iowa and neighboring states, 2020 was not a bad year.
Fears of drought never materialized in a significant way, nor did flood worries. Overall, the year was pretty good, but regional differences, or even differences between neighboring farms still left farmers with radically different yield results.
As you wrap up the 2020 harvest and head into the office to take stock of the year that was and prepare for 2021, we’ve thought about some choices you might have made in 2020 that you might be considering for 2021, and how those decisions might have played out if you’d gone with the alternative.
Coulda’: Jim Uses Fungicide for the Win
In ‘18 and ‘19, Jim Grower had watched as late-season diseases swooped in the summer and fall and knocked down his corn yield.
In 2020, he decided to experiment with adding more fungicide applications throughout the season on his corn. He started by adding applications at V6, R1, and R3 growth stages, at a steep investment of nearly $60/acre in fungicides and application costs.
He spent most of the season worrying he’d gone overboard, but by harvest, his corn still had a tinge of green in the leaves. The late season health, assisted by Aproach® fungicide, allowed the plants to capture sunlight right up until the end, packing more nutrients into each kernel. Jim left a test strip in his field where no fungicide was applied, and at harvest, he found a 20-30 bu/acre yield increase with the multiple fungicide treatments.
Fungicide investment: $60/acre
Cost of not using: 20-30 bu/acre
Did you Know? Granular Agronomy CSA produces local trials, in fields just like yours, to bring you the most recent and relevant crop yield calculations in your area.
Shoulda’: Joe Finds Stable Fertility is Worth the Investment
In the fall of 2019, after harvest, Joe Farmer applied anhydrous ammonia in advance of his 2020 corn rotation. He decided not to use N-Serve® nitrogen stabilizer, instead of increasing his nitrogen rate enough that in his mind, it would counter any early-season losses he might see.
This spring, during a few weeks of warm, wet weather, Joe worried he might be losing a lot of nitrogen, despite the fact that his application should have been sufficient. Later in the season, the telltale yellowing of low nitrogen started to hit his fields. His corn ended up underperforming to the tune of about 20-30 bushels/ac less than his neighbors.
In 2021, Joe plans to use N-Serve to protect his nitrogen investment. An additional benefit of N-Serve use? Ensuring that more of your applied N stays in your field not only makes sure it’s available to the crop, it also prevents it from finding its way into local creeks, rivers, and groundwater, where it can cause serious problems for your neighbors and even nearby trout streams. An investment in keeping N in the field is not only an investment in your bottom line, it’s an investment in the long-term sustainability of your local community.
In addition to stabilizing his N in 2021, Joe also plans to work with his local Granular Agronomy CSA to monitor and adjust in-season applications. On the off chance that similar conditions occur in 2021, he’ll be ready to alter his fertility strategy mid-season to ensure he’s getting the yields he needs.
N-Serve investment: $12/acre
Cost of not using: 20-30 bu/acre
Woulda’: Does Precision Planting Payoff?
Gary Producer has got a couple of problem fields.
From sandy ridges to mucky depressions, these problem areas contain up to 10 or 12 distinct soil types. In recent years, he’d planted each field at a fixed rate due to the older technology on his planter. But the irregular yield, with sandier spots producing very small ears, and the heavier soils producing ears with kernels out to the tip, was a frustrating problem that was pulling down his average across the whole farm.
In 2019, Gary purchased a new planter equipped with variable rate technology. His technician worked with him to develop both field- and hybrid-specific seeding rate recommendations to use with his new planter.
Lower seeding rates of about 22,000 seeds per acre were used for corn in the sandier soil, while rates up to 36,000 were used in the silty clay loam. In the end, the total amount of seed needed for the whole field changed only slightly.
While harvesting the field this year, Gary noticed how the ears in the sandy spots, although fewer than before, were larger and actually produced higher yields than in the past (180 bushels/ac instead of typically 130 bushels/ac before).
In 2021, Gary plans to work with his Pioneer sales rep again to ensure that his hybrids, seeding rates, and soil types match for maximum returns.
Variable rate investment: Upgrading to a variable rate planter + slightly higher seed cost
Cost of not investing: up to 80 bu/ac
As you look ahead to the 2021 season, preparing for profitability means having a firm grasp on profitability and determining what funds you have to invest in farming smarter.
If you’re considering whether new equipment, seeds, or chemistry can make your best fields better, your problem fields more optimal, your job easier, or your farm more profitable, all of these conversations start with understanding your current costs and the price you need to reach your margin goals.
After the year that 2020 was, it’s hard to believe that 2021 can possibly pack more uncertainty. Ensuring that your farm has the financial reserves it needs to endure despite that uncertainty and that at the same time, you’re setting yourself up for a profitable 2021 harvest, requires some thoughtful analysis of your farm’s past performance, consultation with your trusted advisors, and a clear mind.
Though most farmers will only have 40 or so chances to make many of these decisions in the course of their careers, making each decision each year, not based solely on the prior year, but on your cumulative experience over your whole career, and as much additional data and evidence as possible, is the best possible input you can put into your farm to ensure it continues into the future.
State registrations for Aproach are pending. Contact your local sales representative for details and availability. Always refer to the product labels for complete details and directions for use.
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