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Cutting corners this spring?

By Staff | Mar 22, 2014

STEVE BARNHART spoke to a large group of industry professionals and producers during a March 12 grower’s meeting, sponsored by NEW Cooperative in Paton.

PATON – With producers facing lower commodity prices for this year’s crop, one agronomist stressed that managing their risks will be a major part of farmers’ success.

“Managing risk is a key to optimizing yield,” said Steve Barnhart, an agronomist with WinField Solutions. “It’s the key challenge to your business.”

Cutting input costs is an exact science, Barnhart said, since some cuts could create bigger problems than low commodity prices.

Farm industry representatives and producers attended a March 12 winter growers’ meeting, in Paton, sponsored by NEW Cooperative.

Fewer inputs in 2014?

“Studies have shown that narrow or twin-row systems yield better.” —Steve Barnhart Agronomist, WinField Solutions

Barnhart said many producers are expected to study where to cut back on inputs due to commodity prices that are lower than in recent years.

However, he said cutting back may, in the end; result in more hurt than harm.

“With the current commodity prices,” he said, “where do you cut back? That is a tough decision and you need to talk to your agronomist and talk through all of that because cut backs could cost you.”

Understanding how all inputs work together may help the decision-making process, Barnhart said, whether farmers make cutbacks or not.

“You need to know the synergism of the inputs,” he said, “knowing how to get those working together.”

In one scenario, Barnhart said a WinField Solutions test plot compared a traditional fertilizer program, meaning no enhancements with an enhanced program – additional phosphorus, sulfur and zinc; with sidedress application of nitrogen; planting at a higher plant population; fungicide and a genetically enhanced seed- show close to a 70 bushel per acre difference favoring the enhanced program.

Subtracting the added phosphorus, sulfur and zinc fertilizer, for example, resulted in an 18-bushel-per-acre loss.

Subtracting the sidedress application of nitrogen yielded 24 fewer bushels per acre.

Dropping the fungicide application resulted in an additional loss of 12 bushels per acre.

Through the three years of that particular trial, it wasn’t always the same result from a particular input, Barnhart said, as the greatest affect on the yield varied each year, leaving the question, what will producers cut – genetics, fertility or fungicide?

“So if you want to cut back on inputs,” Barnhart asked, “which one do you take the chance on omitting?

“Be sure it’s something you really want to cut back on, (because) each year can be different.”

For continuous acres, Barnhart said, historically the second year is when producers will “take the biggest hit.”

Typically in that second year, a producer can expect a 10- to 15-percent yield loss when compared to his rotated acres.

By the third year, yields will stay somewhat consistent.

When it comes to hybrid selection, Barnhart said. “spend time with your seed dealers to see which hybrids handle corn-on-corn better.

“Hybrids will always show better results with a rotation, but some hybrids will tolerate continuous corn (soil conditions) better.”

Plant populations

Barnhart said there are a lot of variables in deciding on plant population.

“The ideal population varies by hybrid,” he said, “maturity, soil type, row spacing and planting date.”

The later it gets the higher the population should be, he said.

Factors to determine seed variety, he said, include subsoil moisture, the previous crop and tillage system.

“Knowing your response to population is important for sorting out those variety decisions.”

Barnhart said history shows, when it comes to the ideal planting date, that planting early, especially in corn makes sense.

“But what do you do when weather begins affecting those planting dates?” he asked. “If it’s super early in the planting season and the weather is a little iffy, hold off, but if it is late in the season, you need to get those acres planted.

“You are better off getting the crop in the ground and hope that Mother Nature improves things for you than not having planted anything at all.”

Nutrients, spacing

When it comes to row spacing, Barnhart said narrow row or twin-row systems have been doing a lot of positive things in the field for producers, including better stands and canopies.

However, they can have disadvantages.

“Studies have shown that narrow or twin-row systems yield better than planting in 30-inch rows,” he said. “But sometimes, they can result in lower yields when there are high daytime and nighttime temperatures; but usually narrow or twin-rows will yield better.”

Nutrition – especially nitrogen – has always been a primary factor for increasing corn yields. However, there are factors that will influence what rate of nitrogen to be applied.

Not only rates, but in which form nitrogen should be applied, Barnhart said.

“When considering different forms of nitrogen,”Barnhart said, “split the risk as much as you can.

“There is more risk for under-fertilizing, but we have to be conscience of the environment.

“I would rather have a little more at the end of the year than not enough.”

Hashing out potash

Iowa’s soils needing potash is an ongoing controversy, Barnhart said. “

Additional potash applied in a variety of different amounts did show an increase in yields. We need good potash in our soils, so be careful, again, on what you pull back on.”

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