Yield Enhancing Practices for Better Profitability

December 18, 2023  |  By ForGround by Bayer

Boosting yield is the ticket to better profitability. The obvious seems simple enough. But what strategies can growers tuck away in their management toolbox to ensure they’re doing all they can to maximize crop performance? The list of production methods starts from the ground up with soil testing, crop rotation and cover crops, which can help set the stage for better profitability.

Rotate crops to maximize soil productivity.

Nutrient cycling and soil productivity can be improved by a diverse crop rotation. Soil tests allow for growers to see results on paper and provide insight into how production practices impact the health and viability of the soil.

According to ForGround by Bayer Sustainable Systems Agronomist Ben Runge, a soil test might not change crop rotation decisions, but it can help growers tweak fertility prescriptions to achieve production goals.

“In cases where growers are using high amounts of synthetic or organic fertilizers, frequent soil testing, such as every one to two years, should be used to help them make better informed decisions on fertility and pH,” Runge says.

Runge adds that in some instances, growers might be able to reduce fertilizer applications and still reach their yield goals. This could allow for a more financially and environmentally responsible approach to fertility applications.

“Crop rotation decisions are made on a year-by-year basis, but at the very least should be made in tandem with soil tests and their results,” Runge explains. “For example, some growers might plan on a corn-on-corn or bean-on-bean rotation for several years in a row before switching crops. A soil test might help determine that rotational decisions need to be made earlier for the sake of maintaining soil health and productivity.”

Growers can make more timely and informed decisions when using productivity mapping, Runge adds. Yield maps help growers identify and explain why particular areas of a field are higher or lower in production, especially when comparing yield maps to soil tests.

“Often we can anticipate information in a soil test and ground truth our assumptions around our management decisions by looking into our yield maps, or vice versa,” Runge says.

Yield maps can help growers assess the soil to verify management decisions, but tried and true tools like field scouting should also be included in decision-making.

“With the onset of heavier disease pressure and herbicide resistant weeds, frequent crop scouting is essential to any cropping plan,” Runge notes. “If heavier weed pressure is seen, especially in no-till fields, consider the weed suppression benefits that cover crops can provide.”

When heavy disease pressure is present, Runge says frequent crop rotation should be investigated. When nutrients are deficient, consulting with your local agronomist can help troubleshoot tweaks to your fertility plan.

“All these decisions are better informed by crop scouting, especially during periods of heightened stress, such as extreme heat or drought or when the crop enters the reproductive stages of its life cycle,” Runge says.

Determine what your operation might gain from cover crops.

Are you hoping to establish better nutrient retention or enhance soil moisture management as you work to meet your production goals? Or do you need more biodiversity and microbial activity in the soil? Cover crops can help you meet those outcomes. Plus, by including cover crops in your management protocol, you can better suppress weeds, control erosion and have more acres to meet your winter grazing needs.

Likely, a one-size-fits-all approach might not be best, so Runge suggests starting out with cereal rye in the fall between corn-bean crop rotation. Cereal rye is well-adapted and tends to work well in Midwest growing conditions. Oats is another option to consider, especially for ease of termination without sacrificing erosion control and nutrient benefits.

“If you’re going from soybeans to corn, many university publications recommend a mix that includes a legume such as crimson clover for nitrogen fixation, along with a small grain such as triticale,” Runge explains.

Regardless of the cover crop you choose, Runge recommends starting with a simple species mix that is easily adapted to your geography and soil conditions before moving into more complex options that might require more management.

Rely on industry resources for guidance.

“Just like any other aspect of farming, a failure to plan is a plan to fail,” Runge explains.

That said, Runge encourages growers to reach out to industry representatives and even neighboring farmers for their expertise on how to incorporate cover crops into their management plan. Choose the right species based on your geography and soil type. Be sure to include planting time and method and crop termination timing and method as you make your selection.

He adds that you should allow plenty of opportunity to succeed. Begin by identifying a small number of acres to plant a cover crop. Well-drained soils tend to work the best.

“This will allow you to get more comfortable with planting and termination timing without being slowed by wet conditions before determining what works,” Runge says. “Then you can move on to more difficult acres.”

By allowing yourself plenty of opportunities to learn and improve, you can become comfortable growing cover crops and experiencing the soil health benefits the management practice brings to your operation.

Runge adds it might take three or four years before that happens.

Apply technology to help with decision-making.

Remote sensing. Drone technology. Variable rate seeding and fertility. See-and-spray application machines. New technologies are entering agriculture at lightning speed. Advances aside, Runge says there’s no substitute for understanding the real needs for high yield and profitability.

“If the health and vitality of your soil is not considered, no amount of new technology will pull you out of the resulting yield slump,” he explains. ' What new technology can help growers do is make better informed decisions. Soil tests, yield mapping, variable rate technology and better adapted hybrids and varieties offer growers great opportunity to fine- tune operations at the acre level to create more opportunities for success.

That said, Runge says the better way to ensure the longevity of your farming operation is to focus on farming methods that improve the soil and lessen our environmental impact while continuing to drive yield. In doing so, that gives all growers a unique opportunity to increase profitability while leaving the land in a better place than we found it for future generations of farmers.

This article was written by Trust In Food in collaboration with Bayer.