Is There a Secret Recipe for High Yield at Little Expense?

With lower commodity prices, corn and soybean growers are looking for ways to maintain high yield potential while reducing input costs. There are many differing opinions and ideas being shared across the countryside on possible ways to accomplish this. Sometimes, it creates more questions than answers. Some of your questions regarding input decisions may include: What about lower-priced seed options? What about generic herbicides? Can I reduce my herbicide and nitrogen fertilizer use rates? What about reducing my seeding rate? Should I apply sugar to my crop?

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Instead of concentrating on ways to increase return on investment through reduced input costs or looking for a ‘magic potion’ to boost yields, perhaps focus on ways to increase return by maximizing profitability per bushel. For example, factoring in estimated yield, seed cost, and expected commodity price, a farmer can bring in an extra $20/acre by choosing a corn product with a 2.5% (5bu) higher yield potential. On the other hand, choosing a corn product that is 10% cheaper ($30/bag) will only save you $13/acre, illustrating how valuable genetic yield potential is to your operation.1 Yield potential can trump seed price when profitability is your goal.

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So how does one maximize yield? More importantly, how does one manage for high yield potential to provide maximum return on investment? I believe the answer lies in the basics.

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Here is a list of recommendations that can help you achieve such goals:

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  1. Seed selection:
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    • Yield Potential - Review multi-site and multi-year yield data to identify consistently high yielding corn and soybean products in your area.
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    • Plant Health – select corn and soybean products with good defensive characteristics. Consider what crop diseases you may have and use this information to choose products that have higher tolerance.
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  3. Spread your risk: Select a range of early to later relative maturities. Weather conditions during flowering of corn and soybeans can have a significant impact on yield potential. Plant earlier maturity soybeans first to maximize the number of nodes on the stem for flower development.
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  5. Purchase treated soybean seed: At a minimum, treat soybean seed with a good fungicide for improved stand establishment and seedling health. Inoculants and insecticide seed treatments can also provide an added benefit.
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  7. Plant early: Research demonstrates that earlier planting dates provide higher yield potential than later planting dates a majority of the time.
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  9. Plant by seed bed conditions, and not by calendar date: soils that are too cold or too wet can result in reduced emergence and stand establishment as well as reduced seedling vigor.
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  11. Consider seeding rate: Optimum corn yield can be achieved at a seeding rate of 32,000 to 36,000 seeds/acre. Soybean yield can be optimized with a final stand of just 125,000 plants per acre. In narrow-row spacing, the recommended seeding rate ranges from 140,000 to 180,000 seeds/acre.
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  13. Planting depth: Target 1.5 to 2 inches for corn; and, 1 inch for soybeans.
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  15. Consider seed placement: Have your seed meters calibrated and replace worn planter parts.
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  17. Weed control practices: The old adage “start clean – stay clean�? still applies! Always give your crop a head-start on weeds by providing a clean seedbed. Utilize residual herbicides to hold weeds back and provide an alternate mode of action, and control emerged weeds before exceeding 4 inches in height. Always apply labeled rates to maximize efficacy and reduce weed escapes.
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  19. Fertilize based upon yield goal, recent soil tests, and adjust soil pH levels as needed. In soybeans, research at The Ohio State University found that low phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) account for an average 4-7 bu/acre yield loss.2 Nitrogen applications in corn should be incorporated into the soil to reduce loss, and applied to allow for maximum availability during the reproductive stage.
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  21. Plan for early harvest to reduce crop loss potential. Ideally, soybean harvest can begin at 13% grain moisture, which will reduce pod shatter losses. The ideal harvest moisture content for corn is between 22% to 25%. Waiting too long to shell corn will likely result in increased harvest losses.
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    As you prepare for the 2016 growing season, make sure you have a realistic goal in mind and a solid plan to get there. If you are looking at a new recommended practice, consider the source and ask for data to substantiate the claim. Then if you do decide to try it, make sure to test it on your own farm with a side-by-side comparison. In 2016, how will you maximize profitability per bushel? What practices will you start doing, and which ones will you stop doing?