AGRONOMIC NEWS ITEMS
From Agronomists of the
Potash & Phosphate Institute
655 Engineering Drive, Suite 110
Norcross, Georgia 30092-2837
Phone (770) 447-0335
Winter 2000, No. 4
I already have enough corn that isn’t worth anything. We’ve also heard this statement for soybeans, wheat, and just about every crop at some time or other. Reduced foreign markets and U.S. surpluses have been macroeconomic variables leading, in part, to our current low price conditions. Trying to increase production at this time looks like a bad idea. Growing more of a commodity doesn’t seem to make sense. Or does it? If we decide to grow a low-priced commodity, how can we cover the costs of production? For instance, how can we cover the $300/acre expenses of growing corn? The answer: volume. At a price of $1.60 per bushel, we need to produce 188 bushels per acre just to break even. Ironically, part of the short-term solution at the microeconomic, or farm scale, is to grow more of a commodity in such times, rather than less.
I’m already doing everything I know how. Many producers feel that they are already doing all they can to grow the best crop possible. Weed control is good, fertility is right, and plant stands meet expectations. The potential levels that crop yields can reach depend on all these factors and more, the most important of which is probably moisture. But how much tinkering with the crop production system has been done on an individual farm? Most farmers will try planting different varieties or hybrids, but that’s normally where the experimentation ends. How about trying different plant populations, row spacings, fertility levels, or nutrient placements and timings?
I don’t know what to try first. The number of possibilities for management changes is, at first, overwhelming. There is also risk involved. We want to change things for the better, not mess up things that are already working. So where do we start? The place to begin is by looking at the management practices with a history of success. Often, practices that have been investigated, for some reason or other, do not gain wide acceptance. For instance, in some areas, starter fertilizers and banded applications of phosphorus and potassium have been shown to be beneficial in areas of the country where their adoption rate has been slow. Soil testing and plant analysis are proven successes, but in many areas, they are not being used extensively. When trying something new, start with a test area, a small bit of land away from the road where no one can see if you have a success or failure. By keeping things at a small scale, your risk can be minimized while still enabling you to explore new possibilities. And remember to consider simultaneously adjusting other input levels that may be tied to yield. Otherwise, a potential yield increase to the factor of interest may not be realized.
Higher production means higher inputs, which are bad for the environment and cost me more, too. It’s not true that higher production always has to come from higher levels of inputs. For instance, earlier planting and hybrid/variety selection do not necessarily cost more, but can lead to increased yields and quality. Also, better timing of fertilizer applications to more closely match crop needs can reduce nutrient losses to the environment and make better use of the money spent on fertilizer. There are lots of things that can be done that may not result in costs or inputs much greater than what is currently being practiced. When higher inputs are necessary, careful approaches can minimize risks of profit losses or environmental contamination.
Are you satisfied with your yields? Answer this question carefully, then think of the possibilities.