Looking Back While Looking Forward

Looking Back While Looking Forward

Preface by Pete Collins; Agronomy Location Manager-Stewartville (507) 259-7469

This is the time of year we all start to plan for next year’s crop. Yes, even before we have this crop in the bin!!! But before we can look forward, we need to look back at what went right and what we should change for next year.

Controlling and managing waterhemp is on a lot of our minds this year. We will need to assess what worked and what didn’t. Other things to contemplate are managing fertility, seed and chemicals with challenging commodity prices. Oh the fun we will have!!

Below is a humorous article written by Bruce Potter with the University of Minnesota Extension Service on “How to Grow a Bad Crop”; sometimes we may to look at things from a different perspective….I hope you take some things from this article to help you look forward to next year’s crop. Please consult your All American Co-op Progressive Ag Center Agronomist to help keep you from “Growing a Bad Crop” next year. As always, thank you for business and support.

How to Grow a Bad Crop

Bruce Potter, IPM Specialist SW Minnesota, U of MN Extension Service, Department of Entomology, U of MN SWROC ,

Poor yields should be avoided in the interest of profitability. At the same time, the highest possible yield may not bring higher profits if inputs to produce that yield become too high. Weather, pest outbreaks and other unforeseen complications can ruin the best efforts. Each growing season, however, I get to observe corn and soybean fields where it was apparently the intent to insure poor yields. I’d like, therefore, to offer some suggestions when planning a disaster.

  1. Fertilizer management can be ignored. The main function of soil is in keeping plants from falling down and serving as an off-season home for weed seeds, insects and plant pathogens. The heavy clay content of eroded soil holds plants much better than soil that has retained all that pesky organic matter, pore space and tilth. Excessive tillage is a long-term strategy for reducing yields. Manure has no economic value and should always be applied as close to the barn as possible. As much, or as little, fertilizer as the banker allows will produce equivalent yields and all fertilizer rates and placement strategies are economically equivalent. Soil testing to determine potentially yield limiting nutrient levels is irrelevant since you can eliminate the need for phosphorous by applying 10 pounds or more of K or N (especially as urea) in contact with the seed. Of course, you don’t need much phosphorus for a 0 bushel yield goal.

  2. Avoid equipment maintenance and calibration. New equipment, especially when built on a Friday, always arrives properly adjusted for your planting conditions. Applying the proper rate of a seed, fertilizer, or other product will help prevent problems and should be avoided. Obtaining good seed to soil contact and etc. should also be avoided when trying to grow a poor crop. In addition, the stimulation level is much higher when things break during the heat of planting.

  3. Do not worry about seedbed preparation and field conditions. Modern corn planters can “darn near” plant into asphalt with the proper down pressure adjustments. Gauge wheels are designed to prevent the planter from sinking to the toolbar until after the tractor is stuck. Basketball sized clods caused by working wet fields are inconvenient but can be planted into given a high enough will power level. Applying pre-plant incorporated herbicides to fields left heavily ridged from fall tillage ensures that weeds can emerge from a wide range of depths and be challenged by herbicide. Unfortunately, fortunately for our purpose here, weeds emerge from a limited depth range and you may have streaks where they aren’t challenged at all. The floater drivers do get to have a good time though. A firm, smooth seedbed is not the same as a loose, smooth seedbed. The former allows too much depth control and seed to soil contact for poor yields. Conversely, compacting the heck out of a piece of ground works well to minimize yields.

  4. Variety selection is easy. Buying seed is best based on what is cheapest or the dealer is pushing hardest. If this seems simplistic, you could use the alternative method of basing seed decisions on which company offers the best line of free clothing. The latter method is also effective, to a lesser extent, with herbicide selection. I would avoid looking at University of Minnesota variety trials to get a feel for genetic potential of a variety or hybrid. I would also avoid looking at yield over many locations to get a feel for consistency of performance over a range of environments and stresses. Be sure that you look for varieties that perform best under a narrow range of conditions. You know that your fields are uniform with respect to soil type, fertility and pest problems from one end to the other. Additionally, varieties respond the same to these environments from year to year. That is why the concept of picking a variety based on yield monitors and soil tests is currently popular. The seed selection strategies for poor yield assumes the accuracy of concept, variety selection is the single most important step in helping ensure a good yield.

  5. Plant late. The only reason to plant early is to get neighbors exited. Since you are trying to grow a poor yielding crop I wouldn’t start corn planting until the 3rd week of May. The exception to this rule is to always “mud the crop in” when you have the opportunity. Unfortunately, in some years, producers who are trying to grow a good crop are forced to use this strategy.

  6. Planting depth is critical. Corn planted shallower than 1 ½ inch can display uneven emergence and poor root development. If you think you can set a corn planter for 1½ inch and plant a field without going shallower you’re well on your way. Bean emergence, on the other hand, can fall off dramatically when planted over 2 inches. To make sure you do not get it right more than half the time, do not change the planting depth between corn and beans. To further minimize your chances of planting at the right depth, don’t check planting depth between fields. Setting planting depth can cause concern and anxiety. Oh, the uncertainty of knowing if it is actually set correctly. In fact, the uncertainty factor can help ensure late planting when well taken advantage of. You can maximize the chances of getting at least some of the seed at the right depth by planting as fast as you can drive. Of course, the remainder of the seed will be at a disadvantage.

  7. Avoid reading crop protection chemical labels. Ignoring warnings on soil texture, pH, organic matter, variety tolerance, crop stress, timing of herbicide application and rotational restrictions is guaranteed to cause interesting looking plants. The multicolored corn and “bonsai” soybean plants are especially interesting. While attempting to ensure poor economic returns don’t try to match herbicides to weeds species present in the field. This way you get to do at least one rescue treatment for the weeds you missed. It may not make your crop protection chemical dealer as happy as you think. Experience with these phenomenon is partially responsible for the rapid adoption of Roundup Ready technology. Of course, Roundup Ready everything is a sustainable system as explained below.

  8. Try to use the same mode of action in the field every year when using crop protection chemicals. Multiple applications per year of a mode of action are even more effective. Do not change varieties and sources of resistance when using genetic base pest resistance, Phytophthora root rot and SCN resistance for example. This advice will allow you to conduct an evolution experiment on-farm. The opportunity to watching weed species shifts and pest resistance develop will be rewarding and educational.

  9. Make sure that you load up on genetic and chemical insurance packages. There are a large number of ways to insure against insect and disease induced yield loss. A couple bucks/acre can be spent on fungicide treated seed because you’ve heard that your neighbor had root rot. Considerably more per acre can be spent for insecticide treated seed just in case there might be an invertebrate lurking about. Extended diapause northern corn rootworm might be a problem and gives you the opportunity to use the high priced insurance provided by corn rootworm insecticides. Phytophthora resistance, SCN resistance, brown stem rot tolerance and Bt corn are examples of genetically based pest insurance. As with chemical treatments, these won’t pay when you don’t have the matching pest problem but will make money when used in the correct situation. However, you should forget about esoteric concepts like “return on investment”, “economic thresholds” and “maximum economic yield” when trying to grow a bad crop. Follow step 10 to help avoid accidentally making one of these insurance programs pay.

  10. Finally and by all means, don’t look at the field between planting and harvest. This will allow sporadic pest problems to reduce yields beyond the cost of an in-season insecticide, herbicide or cultivation rescue treatment. Species new to the field, herbicide tolerant/resistance weeds, soybean cyst nematode or woolly cupgrass for example, will have a chance to develop into a yield limiting, high cost problem before they are detected. Since you won’t know which problems exist in the field, you won’t have to fret about those bothersome defensive characteristics. It will also make interpreting the low yielding spots on yield monitor maps much more challenging and entertaining next winter. If you would like to help insure good yields and profitable production, I suppose that the opposite of the steps listed above might work. You only get one chance to do this each year. It’s important to try to do it right. We’ll get more serious as planting gets closer. Guaranteed.

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