Summer will be quickly turning to fall and the cool weather this month has slowed crop development and given it a break from the heat and stress of July. Nevertheless, harvest is just around the corner. Evaluating the condition of this year’s crop is important for establishing a solid baseline for next year’s crop.
Plan on walking all your fields and collecting stand counts. Remember, yield is always optimized where there are 100,000 plants per acre, evenly distributed across the field. You may have planted 140,000 or 160,000 seeds, but it only takes 100,000 plants to maximize yield. Also, note problem areas in the field and try to diagnose what held the crop back. It may be something you can solve before next year.
When walking fields, pull a few plants from different areas. Count nodes, pods per node and beans per pod. Look at bean size and see if it varies across the field. It is pod and seed count per acre, and seed size that make yield. Dr. Fred Below has said that retaining one extra pod per plant is worth two more bushels per acre.
Varieties matter. Make notes on varieties that stay consistent across the best and worst areas in the field. Those varieties are likely to yield better and you should plan to plant more of them next year.
Grade your herbicide program. Are there any late grasses or broadleaves? Are waterhemp and ragweed spiking above the canopy? Do your best to determine why. It may be environmental conditions that prevented good weed control, a resistant species that needs to be addressed next year, or that the herbicide mix you applied didn’t work for the weeds present. Consider a fall application to get ahead of the problem.
Soil testing is a key component of farming. Growers need to develop an aggressive soil testing regimen. You should pull samples every four years at a minimum and be consistent with sampling depth, time of year and the laboratory you use for testing. Trying to save money on fertilizer only costs you in the end. Consider applying lime in the fall to allow it to get into the soil solution.
Put planting maps in the combine so you know which varieties you are harvesting. Clear your monitor of old data and make any upgrades so you are prepared to collect good data this year and calibrate weight and moisture. You spent significant dollars on this system so you might as well get the value from it.
You will think of other things that need to be done before the combine rolls. Do them now while time allows and you are not stressed by unforeseen challenges that show up. You’ll be glad you did. Good luck and be safe this harvest season.