The 2022 season is at its final stage, and harvest will begin shortly for farmers across Illinois. Farmers are always forward-looking, and decision-making for the 2023 season is ongoing. The short time in September before harvest begins is the perfect time to take a hard look and start deciding on which new ideas to try next year to improve soybean results (i.e., yield, weed control, fertility, and lowering the usage of products). The ag marketplace currently has many innovative products, such as seed treating soybeans with inoculants or biologicals, cover crops, changing your planter from 30-inch rows to 15-inch rows or adding in-furrow or banded fertilizer into the rows, or trying a foliar applied fungicide/insecticide.
Performing yield trials and scouting fields on the new products or techniques, attempting to find both positive and negative aspects of new products-practices is the key throughout the year. Many products/practices proposed in the previous paragraph will take more than one year to test, with three to five years of data being optimal for a decision to be made. In a few cases, adoption of different techniques or new products happens much sooner, but in those cases, the product or practice was simple to adopt, with the empirical data showing overwhelming success and the evidence of others’ success utilizing the same technique being researched and proving our findings. Field trials over many years could be complicated by crop rotation and planting changes, though proper planning will mitigate these complications.
The first product farmers could utilize are seed treatments for soybeans using a biological/inoculant product. Biological/inoculant products attempt to increase the nitrogen-fixing supply in the soybean plant through the nodes in the Rhizobium, which can increase yield. Many experts recommend seed treatments if farmers utilize a no-till or 2nd-year soybean approach. The second product to introduce is a foliar-applied fungicide/insecticide as a single application (around R3) or a double application (around R2 then R4). This product has been widely used in production agriculture for many years with data showing yield increase, and the product is simple to adopt by contracting local agriculture services to apply when needed.
The first new farm practice farmers could attempt would be planting cover crops to control erosion and increase organic matter-biomass in the soil. This is a costly practice, but better soil health could potentially help with forming better field results and could add nitrogen to the corn crop next year if crop rotation was taking place. Another farm practice that could be introduced is trying to no-till in some fields or overall, which like cover crops, improves soil health while saving the farmer money with fewer field passes, allowing for less fuel consumption and less wear and tear on their machinery. The next farming practice changes will take more time to study before deciding because of the costs involved with implementing these changes. The first is purchasing a different planter to switch from planting 30-inch rows to 15-inch rows in soybeans. This practice change potentially saves money for the farmer because the soybeans reach canopy faster, thus controlling later season weed growth, which saves money from a potential second pass of herbicide to control weeds or keeps the rows cleaner for better yields. Another change is adding an in-furrow or band fertilizer system to your planter. Experts recommend in-furrow or banding fertilizer, especially in no-till, to help emergence and early season vigor.
One last item that needs addressing is the cost of purchasing new products or changing practices and when or if return on investment (ROI) is attained. With the sharp increase in other inputs over the past few years, ROI is much more important. Like other businesses, every big purchase or the addition of new products or change in technique for the farm must be viewed through this scope as farming is a business, family or not.