It is evident that the last two years have been phenomenal for crop production, with record-breaking yields across the country. As farmers are faced with lower crop prices, it is critical that they take advantage of every opportunity they can to once again maximize yields and increase the profit margin. This year, as farmers are readying their fields and planning spring planting strategies should follow these basic, yet very important tips.
The following information and advice is provided by Dr. Robert Mullen, director of agronomy for Potash Corporation of Saskatchewan. He is chief contributor to potashcorp-ekonomics.com, an online resource that delivers easy-to-understand analyses of soil science data, agronomic information, research and best management practices to help farmers achieve greater financial success.
1. Don't underestimate the power and value of starter fertilizer
Applying starter fertilizer can be valuable to help give corn an early boost, specifically in the northern Corn Belt or conservation tillage systems. Starter fertilizers help the crop to get off to a fast start and reduce the risk associated during the growing season. Starter fertilizers are used to complement preplant fertilizer and primary fertilization, and are applied to the seed or near the seed to enhance early development. While starter fertilizers will not provide economic benefits across all conditions, they can be a very effective tool if the conditions are right. Wet, cold springs are ideal to see a positive response to starters, as starters enable seeds to perform well even with a late planting date. Starter fertilizers are also useful with numerous hybrids that have grown in popularity. For example, full-season corn hybrids can show a significant improvement from the boost starter fertilizer provides as they are better able to endure extreme summer temperatures later in the growing season. Racehorse hybrids can also benefit from starter application, as they are able to start out strong and be prepped for success later on. When planning starter fertilizer application, also make sure to identify the right rate and right time to apply. In addition, pay attention to a starter fertilizer program as a whole -- crops need early growth and balanced nutrient levels from the outset to optimize the fields' potential.
2. Position fields for success by using a balanced fertility program
Farmers who properly fertilize their crop this spring will reap the benefits throughout the growing season, as a proper balance of nutrients sets the table for a healthy, profitable yield. When budgets tighten, farmers often focus on the most limiting factor that is impacting their yields. However, focusing all of an operation's nutrient investment dollars on one nutrient can be harmful for the farm's profitability. For example, corn farmers in the Midwest often focus on replenishing nitrogen in the spring. While nitrogen may be the most limiting factor, an adequate balance of other nutrients, such as phosphorus and potassium will ensure that this nitrogen is utilized to its full potential, maximizing yields.
3. Don't rush to plant fields that aren't ready
All farmers are interested in exploring the yield potential associated with longer season hybrids, but it's important to realize that planting in unsuitable conditions can lead to specific problems in a crop's growth cycle. One of these problems is poor root development, which is critical in the crop's development and will ultimately decrease yield. Farmers must resist the temptation to get seeds in the ground too early and instead wait until acceptable planting conditions exist. If it has been an exceptionally wet and cold spring, farmers may be forced to delay planting until conditions improve but this does not mean all hope is lost for impressive yields. Delayed planting does not mean it is necessary to change hybrid maturity or soybean variety to a shorter season option. This should only be considered at higher latitudes, or if the planting date is extremely late. Farmers also don't necessarily need to alter seeding rate to adjust to later planting. Data suggests that sticking with what was previously planned is the best approach, but using a slightly lower seeding rate is acceptable if adjustments must be made, especially when soil temperatures have increased.