6 ways to boost yields, pinch pennies

AgriNews photos/Erica Quinlan Bob Nielsen, Extension corn specialist at Purdue University, interacts with the crowd at the summit. He answered questions about topics like nitrogen management and calculating costs per bushel.

HUNTINGBURG, Ind. — Farmers looking for ways to boost yields cheaply have options, including picking the best hybrid and managing nitrogen.

Bob Nielsen, Purdue Extension corn specialist, talked about ways to save money and increase yields affordably at the Southwest Indiana Agriculture Economic Summit.

“Corn and soybean production are not in the best of times — and we all understand that,” he said. “But, as an agronomist, I think there are some things we can re-evaluate.

“I’m not an economist, but it’s true that variable costs, prices and yield all go into contribution margins. Sometimes we forget to talk about (yield), but it’s a component that. If we can increase it, it has a big effect on the bottom line.”

He shared the following tips:

1. Manage nitrogen smartly

Nitrogen in the soil is easily lost through denitrification in heavier soils or leaching in sandy soils, Nielsen said. Because of that, yields can be reduced or the farmer spends more than necessary to avoid yield loss.

Ways to minimize risk of nitrogen loss:

  • Improve tile or surface drainage.
  • Focus on late pre-plant nitrogen applications, split applications — pre-plant plus sidedress — full sidedress or fertigation nitrogen applications.
  • Include inhibitors where appropriate.
  • Avoid fall-applied anhydrous ammonia.
  • Avoid early spring March nitrogen application.
  • Avoid UAN or urea broadcast without incorporation.

Even though soil nitrogen availability varies, farmers can use the results of sound field research to identify good ballpark estimates of optimum nitrogen rates that best maximize dollar returns, Nielsen said.

2. Consider delaying potassium and phosphorous applications

When money is limited, applications of phosphorus and potassium fertilizers can be delayed with little risk of yield loss if soil sampling has been done within the last few years and soil test nutrients are well within the maintenance ranges or beyond.

3. Pick the right hybrid

“Your ability to identify ‘good’ hybrids can easily add 20 to 30 bushels per acre to your bottom line,” Nielsen said. “Do not underestimate the importance of this agronomic decision.

“Hybrid selection is not simply about genetic yield potential. But, also the ability of the hybrids to perform consistently well across a wide range of growing conditions — i.e. stress tolerance. Tolerance to a wide array of stresses is important because we cannot accurately forecast next year’s growing conditions.”

Farmers also should keep in mind seed quality, customer service and whether or not they want biotech traits.

4. Manage weeds smartly

“Too often we don’t know what weeds we’re dealing with,” Nielsen said. “We trust it to the co-op or field agronomist. But it’s really important in terms of controlling the weeds and costs.”

Other tips:

  • Be timely with herbicide applications relative to weed size.
  • Recognize and identify resistant weeds.
  • Do not rely solely on post-emergence herbicide applications.

5. Know how to manage diseases

Learn about plant diseases and send samples to a diagnostic library to confirm the disease.

According to Nielsen, the most important foliar diseases for corn in Indiana are gray leaf spot, northern corn leaf blight and Goss’s wilt. Ear and stalk rots also are common issues.

To minimize the risk of foliar disease: Pick hybrids with disease resistance, avoid corn following corn, consider tillage and apply foliar fungicides when needed.

6. Avoid unnecessary inputs

“If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is,” Nielsen said.

Ask for comprehensive trial data. If in doubt, contact a reputable agronomist.

Erica Quinlan can be reached at 317-726-5391, ext. 4, or equinlan@agrinews-pubs.com. Follow her on Twitter at: @AgNews_Quinlan.

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