Low-Cost Crop-Management Considerations

AGF-110
Agriculture and Natural Resources
Date: 
11/08/2018
Chris Zoller, Associate Professor and Extension Educator, Agriculture and Natural Resources, Tuscarawas County

In order to optimize production, it is necessary to critically evaluate all agronomic inputs for crop production. The low-cost crop-management considerations explained here are important to economic success in producing agronomic crops.

Stick to the Basics

Avoid the temptation to buy unproven products. Consider reducing the total acres in crops and becoming more efficient in production on each acre. It is very possible that the profit from fewer well-managed acres would be greater than a larger acreage that is poorly managed. Evaluate soils and fields according to ownership or leasing arrangement, drainage, fertility, location, size, and overall production potential. Profit is determined by efficiency per unit of production, not on total volume of production.

Do What You Know How to Do, but “Do it Better”

Assemble a team (agronomist, seed supplier, Extension educator) to identify weak points in your production program and attempt to correct or strengthen them. Be realistic in developing a production program relating to anticipated yield. If historically a field has never produced more than 120 bushels of corn per acre, it is not realistic to develop a production program for 200 bushels per acre.

Consider Crop Rotation

The benefits of rotating crops are numerous. Fewer weeds, diseases, and insects often result from a rotation, thus less herbicide, fungicide, and insecticide may be needed. Corn grown following corn typically leads to a 2 to 19 percent reduction in yields compared to corn grown following soybeans. Soybeans following a crop other than soybeans will usually yield about 10 percent more grain, on average, than when soybeans follow soybeans. Ohio State University research has shown a soybean yield increase, on average, of 13 percent when wheat is added to the rotation. Be prepared to perform production tasks on time when they should and can be performed. Adapt your production system to one without the need for tillage.

Consider Seed Costs and Performance

Seed cost differences between varieties are minimal, but performance differences may be large. Factors to be considered include yield potential, maturity, lodging, disease and insect resistance, seedling vigor, and stress tolerance. Varieties should be selected that can tolerate stress conditions that exist in a field. Seed treatments should be used to aid in establishment of healthy, adequate plant stands. Evaluate your per acre seeding rate. University research has shown that reduced seeding rates often result in yields similar to higher seeding rates.

Crop-variety performance trial and on-farm research results are available at county Extension offices and should be consulted when making variety selections and determining seeding rates. 

Conduct Soil Analysis and Develop a Soil Fertility Program

Fertilize low-fertility fields first and then fields with high fertility. Fields high in phosphorus and potassium may not require additional nutrients for a year or more. Emphasize potassium fertility for soybean fields and phosphorous fertility for grass crops. Apply only those nutrients that are determined to be limiting yield. As yet, many micronutrients are not recommended for most Ohio soils.

To determine nitrogen requirements, consider yield goals, previous crop and nitrogen remaining from previous crop, soil drainage, and application practices. Set realistic yield goals based on previous history and the relative productivity of your field. Use manure, if available, because it contains appreciable amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium.

A soil test will measure pH and, if necessary, provide a recommendation for the amount of lime to apply. Achieving the correct soil pH allows plants to best utilize nutrients.

On soils with less than adequate drainage, consider sidedress application of most of the nitrogen to reduce the potential for nitrogen loss due to denitrification. To ensure vigorous, early growth, be sure to add some starter nitrogen. Minimize surface volatilization losses of urea in reduced tillage by either surface banding or injecting to reduce contact of urea with surface litter.

Plant Early, If Possible

Corn planting should be as early in April as soil conditions permit and, if possible, complete the planting by May 10. Adjust the seeding rate based on soil productivity and available soil water-holding capacity.

Plant soybeans as early as possible after April 25 as soil conditions permit; if possible, complete planting by May 15. Consider planting soybeans in narrow rows (7.5 inches to 15 inches) and seed 140,000 seeds per acre. Doing so will increase yields and reduce competition from weeds. Reduce the seeding rates of Roundup Ready varieties by 50 percent. Select varieties with good tolerance and/or high disease resistance.

Control Weeds

Plan weed control programs based on weed history, crop rotation, and soil type. While weed control is necessary for profitable crop production, absolute weed control is not required to maximize profits.

Refer to Weed Control Guide for Ohio, Indiana and Illinois for weed-control recommendations and for controlling problem weeds. 

Financial Analysis

An analysis of your enterprises can help determine those that are more profitable and ones you may want to consider eliminating. Contact your local Extension office for more information about using FINPACK to evaluate the financial performance of your farm business.

Additional Resources

Ohio State University publishes a number of helpful resources for Ohio crop producers. Contact your local Extension office about the following:

Original author: Dr. Jim Beuerlein, Retired, Extension Agronomist (Originally published in 2001.)