By Darren Hefty
I can run the numbers, too. Tightening your belt on the wheat acres is a good idea, but if you sacrifice more bushels than what you gain in cost-savings, you fall even further behind. Let’s look at each input category one at a time to see where cuts have the best shot at helping you out.
If you don’t have the right plant food available in the field, you can’t raise a good crop. Here is a quick checklist to make sure the money you invest in fertilizer is prudent.
- Grid or zone soil sample – 5-acre grids only cost $5.20 per acre, and they tell you what fertilizer you need. More importantly this year, they tell you what fertilizer you DON’T NEED. Sure, $5.20 sounds like a lot this year, but keep in mind, you don’t have to soil test every single growing season if you don’t want to. That said, if you aren’t regularly testing it’s hard to make the right decisions on fertility. Instead, you do a lot of guessing, and with margins thin, guessing isn’t a wise way to manage your land.
- In-season Nitrogen Testing – I’d suggest you take 2-3 samples per field for $5/sample to see how much additional N you need to streambar on your wheat.
- Pick two spots in one field and pull plant tissue tests once/week for the next 8 weeks. Cost = $320 total. This may or may not make a difference this year, but the results will help you tremendously going forward. By tissue sampling, you can fine-tune your fertility program and figure out where your crop is having issues.
- Where can I make cuts in my fertility program? We often see nitrogen overapplied and potassium and micronutrients underapplied, but here’s the whole key. Like I said above, run some tests, and then learn how to make your own fertility recommendations. Once you know how to do things yourself, you will likely be able to save money on every ton of fertilizer you buy, and you will undoubtedly be able to figure out which fertilizers to cut and which ones to keep.
If you farm in an area where rainfall is often limited, you simply CAN’T AFFORD TO HAVE WEEDS. They rob nutrients and water from your soil and hurt your yield. In order to cut your costs, you may need to use different herbicides depending on the situation. There’s no point in spraying an expensive product for thistles, for example, in a field where you have no thistles. To save money on each product you buy, look for rebate and tie-in programs, generic alternatives, and reputable dealers who stand behind the products and make great recommendations.
Here is likely one of the tougher decisions for you this spring. If you want a fungicide to work, you have to spray before you see any disease on the plant, as fungicides are preventative with almost no curative activity. Here is some good news. Fungicide prices have crashed! There are also inexpensive new products including Nexicor with multiple modes of action. Plus, you can now find generic versions of some of the fungicides you’ve been using that cost $2-3/Acre. Much like with weeds, you simply can’t afford to have disease take away yield, so rather than cut the fungicide, our suggestion is to use a less expensive product if the higher-priced fungicide isn’t paying for you.
Since insecticide prices are now at an all-time low, it won’t take many insects to justify treatment. I don’t care if the wheat price is $2 per bushel or $20 per bushel, you should always scout first and consider the economic threshold. The economic threshold is a factor of just 2 things: how many dollars’ worth of damage can the insect still do in your crop, and what is the cost of treatment? Sure, grain prices are low, but if your yield loss is almost anything at all, investing $2 per acre in the full rate of an insecticide is likely worthwhile.
With all of these things, remember that it’s critical to get your crop off to a good, healthy start. It makes your crop more able to tolerate the stresses that are sure to come later this season. It also makes good financial sense right now.