It is no secret that just about every farm input has increased in price. Some inputs might be even double what they were just a few months ago or possibly limited in supply. How can we raise the best crop we can while still trying to manage our input costs? Whether a niche specialty crop or a 100-acre cornfield, there are opportunities to consider.
Fuel and equipment costs have been among the many costs that have increased. Consider the number of field passes you make and where you can save some fuel and wear and tear on equipment. Tillage passes are very hard on time, fuel and equipment. This is where no-till or other reduced tillage systems can reduce or eliminate those passes, aside from all of the benefits those systems have on soil health. Other opportunities to combine practices into one pass such as liquid fertilizer with some herbicides can also help to reduce costs. Remember, many of these savings also reduce labor, as well, which might mean you can cover more acres with the same amount of time if you can reduce some field passes.
Fertilizer is another input that has dramatically increased. Having recent soil test results can be very helpful to help customize those fertilizer rates and make sure that you are putting those nutrients where you need them. Also, remember the Illinois Agronomy Handbook — extension.cropsciences.illinois.edu/handbook — can be a great help at interpreting your results into fertilizer recommendations. Have you been considering using variable rate technology for fertilizer applications? This might be the time to consider taking that jump. Variable rate technology may not always decrease overall fertilizer use, but it allows you to put the nutrients where they are needed, helping to provide more uniform and higher overall yields.
Many pesticides, especially herbicides, have been in predicted short supply and also higher in cost. Consider investing money in a full rate of residual herbicide preemergence. This could be a great way to ensure good foundational weed control and possibly reduce the need for additional herbicides or passes in the future. If herbicide availability is unknown, it might be better to put your money in upfront in the season rather than hoping you can access a product later in the season for a postemergence application. In addition, using an effective preemergence herbicide program with diverse modes of action can also be the best for resistance management and overall weed control.
The bottom line is to think beyond what might be typical on your farm. Look for ways that you can conserve and make those input investments you do make earn their keep!
Nathan Johanning is a commercial agriculture educator, University of Illinois Extension.