Will your 2017 corn production story be one of survival or success?
I’ve gathered that there are a lot of farm businesses focused heavily on cutting costs to get them through the current dip in commodity markets. While it is possible that cost saving could be an effective plan, I believe we need to commit to a strategy that makes financial sense, without costing upside production. No matter what happens with commodity values; we still need bushels in the bin to be successful!
That being said, I realize that we can’t put our heads in the sand and simply continue using the same strategies of the past few years. We need a balance of field-specific production experience, a system to help us make qualified decisions, and the means and commitment to execute. Here are a few things we are going over right now with our clients that should keep them in the driver’s seat:
Field nutrient levels: Hopefully, throughout the last few years, we have addressed fertility in a way that gives us an advantage for next year. The old “bank account” adage is still true, and many producers have made significant deposits in their “fertilizer” account, which will be very handy in a year with projections of lower than normal gross revenue numbers. Based on your situation, this could be a year when customizing your fertilizer prescriptions to your needs (addressing your needs, and capitalizing on your advantages) would provide a huge advantage to your cash flow. Knowing each field, and how it is currently responding is a critical part of this. We caution growers not to blindly cut fertilizer or go back to flat rate applications to lower cost… In most cases, these are knee-jerk reactions instead of management decisions, and end up costing efficiencies long term.
Nitrogen efficiency: There is not a consultant or an agronomy company on the planet that can tell you, today, what the best nitrogen plan will be for next year (Sorry). I do guarantee, however, that every time you lose nitrogen and have to re-apply it; it costs you more money. My strategy going in to next year is to challenge each and every one of my clients to split apply their N, and delay the later applications as long as possible. If you only apply 100 units of N to a field in the fall or spring, then your potential N loss is limited, along with your financial risk. I’ve never met a farmer that didn’t believe in investing in nitrogen… I’ve met a lot that don’t like RE-investing in it! When a sidedress application is in the plan to start, it allows for a lower pre-plant rate, less risk, and less re-investment… maximizing overall efficiency over time.
Seeding Rates: This is constantly talked about in many cost-saving circles, but I need to caution everyone that is seriously considering less plants per acre as an efficiency strategy. While efficiencies can be gained in certain zones within a field, they are seldom gained with “flat rate” seeding strategies. To lower the seed drop per acre and hold or increase yield, you need to use the correct strategies. Otherwise, this can become a very counterproductive change.
Disease / Fungicide Strategy: With the disease load that I’ve seed across the corn-belt this year, most producers really need to include a fungicide product in their budget for 2016. We can, however, broaden the discussion as to how we incorporate fungicide into our plan. In the past couple years, we’ve seen more product options, as well as more application practices that have proven viable. As products go, there are multiple off-patent active ingredients that offer more bang for the buck, and these can potentially be considered to maximize our ROI in the case of disease management. When considering alternative application options, both V5/V6 and R1/R2 applications have proven to be effective. Opening the discussion to entertain alternative application timing could be a way to gain some efficiencies without costing yield.
By no means are these the only things that are being discussed or should be discussed throughout this current economic season. Other operational expenses such as land cost, equipment cost, etc. are other very important considerations that most farm businesses are already trying to address. However, from an agronomic point of view, I encourage every farmer to make sure to make well-founded, qualified management decisions and not knee-jerk reactions based on fear. The guys that take the bull by the horns and make the right decisions for the 2017 crop, will be the guys in the driver’s seat in the end.
Tyler Rees, CCA, Legacy Ag Solutions.