While higher yield overall is one of the “causes” of low soybean market prices, for the individual farmers, increasing yields is an important “cure” to help improve profits. Many yield increases cost little or no money. These come from paying attention to details, taking little steps to be sure no yield opportunities are overlooked. So how do you prepare to not overlook yield opportunities?
Plan ahead. Too often we get busy at planting time and have problems with adverse weather, equipment breakdowns, and other “interferences.” We get into reactive mode and don’t have much time to plan. If you have a carefully thought out plan in place – and WRITTEN DOWN in detail – you have a roadmap to stay on the right path to high yields. Share your plan with trusted advisers and ask for their ideas on how to improve it.
Be flexible. The best laid plans… YES, expect to have to adjust your plan once you start the season. Planting delays disrupt progress and lead to a need to make changes in variety selection, tillage plans, pest management, and other parts of the plan, and maybe even the crop. But having a plan in place helps you to be proactive, rather than reactive, in making changes to your plan.
Be observant. Take time to look at your fields. Kick a few clods. Think about what you see and what is right or wrong with your plan. Take notes. Unless you only have one soybean field, taking notes on what you see will be important to looking back over the season to evaluate what adjustments are needed for your plan for next year.
Some adjustments can be made in-season, which makes such observations even more important. An electronic tablet is a good “notepad”, AND MOST ALSO HAVE BUILT IN CAMERAS. Use it – or your mobile phone – to photograph and document abnormalities you see. Document the location (with GPS coordinates possible. You can return to the same spot to watch how the problem is progressing – better or worse. And you can relate the problem location to soil tests, soil survey, yield maps, and other data you collect on the field. Build a record set of this information. It will be invaluable in planning for future crop years. And along the way you will learn a lot.
Return to the scene. Repeat the scouting trip on a regular schedule. Farmers who are successful in breaking yield barriers do so by spending time in their fields. With the record set described above and regular visits to look for changes, you can learn a lot about your soybean management practices, and have the information to help make better-informed decisions for future years.
Sure, there are management decisions you can make that require investment in different varieties, chemicals, fertilizers, and other inputs – whether different products or different rates – but take advantage of the no-cost and low cost opportunities first. Get your foundation agronomy right first. Planning, observing, reviewing – cost no more than your time. As a soybean manager there aren’t many better ways to spend your time. Such steps can reduce risk, increase yields, and improve plans for future crops. It can go a long way as a cure for low market prices.
Harold Reetz is a Certified Crop Adviser working as an agronomy consultant in Monticello, Illinois. His areas of expertise include high-yield crop production, precision farming technology, 4R plant nutrient management systems and conservation systems.