7 Agronomic Tips For Greater Yields, ROI and Profitability

"After this year there's probably a situation now where we can use this technology to push our planting window just a little bit into more marginal conditions," says Ken Ferrie. ( Darrell Smith )

At the National Farm Machinery Show, Farm Journal Field agronomist Ken Ferrie walked the aisles to soak up the latest technologies and tools in agriculture. 

“It's neat to see what's going to be new on the horizon, what's coming. And then what was new a year or two ago, how they've improved it– whether it be hardware or software,” he told AgriTalk host Chip Flory. 

As Ferrie is helping farmers gear up for the 2020 growing season, he shares these seven agronomic tips to optimize yields, maximize ROI and increase profitability in the year ahead. 

1.Teach the planter to dance. Of all the technologies he saw in the field in 2019, the one that stood out with the highest ROI was planter hydraulic downforce–but maybe not in the way you’d expect, because it was uplift that really shined.

“So typically, when it's marginal conditions, you have to be very, very careful how much downforce you use and if you can't get the slot to close, you smear the sidewall, and decide, well, we would say take all your downforce off, see if that disappears," he says. "If your sidewall smearing disappears, you're causing that problem with the weight of the planter, and this year we went back and forth trying to get into these fields or realize just the weight of the row unit was too much." 

"We actually had to lift up on that row unit, which of course adds weight to the planter wheels. We were carrying 100 plus pounds of up force on these planters so we could plant in those conditions," he explains. "We use the term teaching the planter to dance, and that's something that we couldn't do five years ago. And it's something that I would have said, well just be patient, wait for the soil, wait for it and make it happen. After this year there's probably a situation now where we can use this technology to push our planting window just a little bit into more marginal conditions that our dad wouldn't even think about planting into because we didn't have that technology.”

2. Planter speed also allowed big gains in productivity. Ferrie says planting windows are now measured by hours—not days. 

“Up until this year, we didn't think about acres per hour because that's not how we were planting corn. The high-speed planters were able to get us into some acres that we normally wouldn't see in a two day window,” Ferrie says. 

3.    Yes, planter tech can help farmers can gain bushels, but don’t overlook the fundamentals.

“Your planter pass is a foundational piece to yield, but just like anything else, if you don't manage the disease and insects and challenges after that, it doesn't make any difference,” Ferrie says. 

He shares hybrid selection is also paramount. 

“When we're talking about corn, as an operator probably the most important decision you’ll make comes back to hybrid selection,” he says. And he adds, if a hybrid was challenged in 2019, it may not need to get kicked out of your consideration set if it had genetics that have performed well on your farms in the past. 

4. Prepare for disease pressure. Ferrie says while farmers are still sorting out their marketing strategy and planting intentions, they should keep their eye on disease pressure in 2020. 

“To go into this year and assume that the amount of inoculant we have a different disease out there isn't going to show up again, that would be poor planning,” he says. 

5. Recognize if you have a steep learning curve in the year ahead. While many didn’t get all their fall tillage done, Ferrie says the challenges are compounded for farmers who may be behind on field work and are facing a new production practice. 

“In a scenario where it's something totally new to them, there's where we usually get into trouble. We know we have people in the prevent plant acres that for the first time are going to not only no-till but no-till into cover crop. While a lot of people do that successfully, if you've never done it before in your farming career, it's a pretty sharp learning curve that you need to be prepared for,” he says.

6. Use your in-field data. “Using data is getting better, but I do think there's a lot of data piling up and people don't know what to do with it,” Ferrie says. “And the biggest issue is that folks aren’t taking the time to sit down and say what do we learn from this information and while we go forward, how do we use it?”

7. There’s value in data every year. Particularly coming off back-to-back late harvest seasons and 2019 having widespread weather woes, Ferrie is concerned farmers may discount what can be learned from every year’s data. 

“It's the tough years that probably tell us the most,” he says. “You get into a drought and somebody wants to just forget about good yield maps and data collection, or you get into a year like this past year, and they think the information is not valuable because it's such an unusual year. And that's not true.”

He explains that when everything goes right in season, anyone can hit a home run. 

“When you get up against the wall, you need to know what were the decisions you made that yield, and what were the wrong ones. That’s going to tell you what you're going to do next year, and how you would handle those situations in the future.”