Some years are hot and dry.  Some years are cold and wet.  Freezes can be too late in the spring or too early in the fall.  And then, every once in a while, it all comes together and you can plant when you want to, get the rains when you need them (and not when you don’t), and haul a profitable harvest to town.

Those are the years that make farming look easy.  But we all know that being successful over the long haul takes the management skill to raise a crop, regardless of the curveballs Mother Nature throws your way.  And the key to that success?  Good management aimed at a single goal: Improving the health of your crops and the ground you farm.

The key is planning for a healthy crop that also improves soil health.

Building a healthy base

In a recent presentation in northern Illinois, Mark Bramstedt, NRCS resource soil scientist, spoke on the critical importance of soil health.  He reminded us that the soils we farm today are really a reflection of the soil parent material and what’s happened to it over the years.  He added that it’s important to make management decisions that improve soil health so that they in turn can produce a better crop.

According to Mark, here are three key aspects to soil health that can be affected by management:

  • Pore space/compaction
  • Organic matter
  • Soil biology

Surefire soybean success

Like soil health, management decisions can have a significant impact on plant health.  Jason Haegele and Fred Below, University of Illinois, focus in on the fundamentals of managing for better health and better yields in The Six Secrets of Soybean Success.

Their report covers top tips for improving soybean yields by improving soybean health.  Here’s an overview of their findings.

  1. Reduce the effects of weather by starting with healthy soils and early season protection.  Promoting strong roots helps relieve environmental stresses such as drought or heat.
  2. Apply fertilizer containing N, P, Zn and S just before planting to add an average 4.3 bushels per acre.
  3. Select soybean varieties with later maturities for your region that will respond well to management.  Soybean varieties of similar maturity can vary by as much as 20 bushels per acre.
  4. Apply foliar fungicides and insecticides at the beginning of pod development to add an average 3.6 bushels per acre, protect yield potential and maximize seed fill.
  5. Use fungicidal, insecticidal and plant growth regulator seed treatments to protect crops and enhance seed emergence, while adding an average 2.6 bushels per acre.
  6. Plant in 20-inch rows, which yielded an average 2.1 bushels per acre more than 30-inch rows, and as much as 6.5 bushels per acre more in northern sites.

Health is definitely an important step on the way to profits, and plant health and soil health work hand in hand.  And while it may be tempting to focus on plant health as a key to managing the profit potential of the season, be sure to keep a close eye on soil health, as it plays a much stronger role in determining the long-term profit potential for the farm.

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