Maximizing ROI with focus on soils

Editor's Note: Dave Green, northwest crop service territory manager with Servi-Tech, shared what he has been pointing out to customers when it comes to cutting input costs and points he also shares with other crop consultants.

The combination of low crop prices and still relatively high input prices has growers looking for ways to cut costs. It is important that growers invest in inputs that have the highest potential return on investment.

Soil samples can be a major key for managing soil fertility and subsequent crop production. Properly placed grid soils, zone soils or composites can provide information that is critical to placing fertilizer investments where the potential return is the greatest. Proper soil sample technique and preparation is required to increase the odds of having meaningful soil test results.

It is important to sample all fields, since there is usually wide variability from field to field. Grids and zone samples are used to define in-field variability, which can be even greater than field-to-field differences. Soil analysis decreases the chance of not meeting crop needs or over applying nutrients in excess of crop needs in any given field or area of a field. The results from the samples are only part of the decision process for making fertilizer recommendations. Previous soil test records, previous crops, yield maps, other precision farming data can all add to the accuracy of fertilizer placement, amount timing and the correct products.

Yield goals and previous fertilizer applications are also important to achieving the best return for each dollar invested in fertilizer. Often a set of 2.5-acre grids will pay for themselves in targeted fertilizer application either by reduced total application, or the additional yield due to accurate applications.

The soil sample results will give a baseline level of nutrients available for crop production. This allows determination of what nutrient levels are sufficient for crop growth without further applications. Setting an accurate and attainable yield goal will be important to getting a good economic return to fertilizer expenses. Generally, a five-year yield average with a 5-10 percent bump is a good starting point. Rarely is fertilizer the only production practice that can be yield limiting in any given situation. If the fertilizer program is sound, it will generally not limit crop production, even if conditions allow the producer to exceed the yield goals. Other testing in season can provide supplemental information on fertility status in the plant. These tests include plant tissue testing and pre-sidedress nitrogen testing.

Fertilizer is just one of the many inputs that go into maximizing crop production. Crop response to applied inputs is critical to crop production profitability. A crop specialist can assist farmers in maximizing their return to each input dollar invested in a crop production system.