Lessons You Can Leverage

Put the agronomic insights you gained this season to work next spring ( Lindsey Benne and Darrell Smith )

This year, farmers across the corn- and soybean-growing states were inundated with challenges.

“There were some things that we can’t react to, like weather,” says Jim Schwartz, Beck’s Hybrids director of Practical Farm Research and agronomy. “But there were some things we can and should react to and learn from,” such as management practices.

From planting to harvest, each decision impacts final yield. Here’s a look at some management areas to evaluate as you plan for next season.

The sins of planting emerge at harvest. Whether it’s the wrong seed treatment, poor seed placement or the wrong hybrid or variety, those mistakes show up in the combine.

For instance, consider the performance of your planter closing wheels.  If you saw poor root growth or field compaction this season, you might opt for using custom wheels.

“Every year, we do research on planter closing wheels, and every year, we learn that anything we test is better than the standard rubber closing wheels that come on a planter,” Schwartz says.

Weather conditions are always a huge consideration for planting timing. In some cases, you can hedge your bets, says Erich Eller, owner of Forefront Ag Solutions.

“If the ground conditions and calendar are right, with warmer weather a few days off, go ahead and plant some of the crop,” Eller advises.“I’m not saying mud it in, but if the ground is fit, go for it.”

It’s often worse to wait too long and rush to get crops in when soil conditions are less than ideal because that can create bigger problems, Eller adds.

Plan ahead for yield-robbing pests. Don’t let diseases, insects and weeds take the top off yields. For instance, Goss’s wilt hit farmers hard this season in the western Corn Belt, while a relatively new corn disease, tar spot, plagued farmers in the East.

“Goss’s wilt is a viral disease versus a fungal disease like GLS [gray leaf spot] or NCLB [northern corn leaf blight], and you can’t manage Goss’s with a fungicide,” says Bruce Battles, Syngenta head of agronomy for Golden Harvest. “It goes back to genetics being the lead management practice. Once the pathogen is in the soil, you can’t get rid of it.”

For soybeans, Harmon Wilts, DeKalb technical agronomist in Minnesota, says varieties with the RPS3A gene are helping fight phytophthora. “That gene and field tolerance are providing better results,” he says.

Fertility is always a factor to evaluate. Nitrogen and other nutrients frequently ran short this year because of excessive rainfall. Agronomists say this is a good reminder to perform tissue and soil tests. After that, determine the economics of foliar or sidedress nutrient applications.
Whatever you plan for 2019, don’t overreact to this year. Battles says, “The worst thing you can do is start abandoning ship on a proven hybrid or practice because of one year.”