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326675

How your management practices can defend against inflated input prices

As input prices continue to rise, the 2022 growing season may already feel like an uphill battle.

“Break-even prices for corn and soybeans are up substantially,” says Michael Langemeier, a Purdue University Extension agricultural economist. “If you look at the break-even price for corn, for example, it’s up 25%. It seems like every time I redo the budget, that percentage increase is higher — and it’s not just fertilizer. It’s things like herbicides, insecticides, repair costs, fuel costs, and costs to store and dry the grain.”

Still, there’s money to be made, especially when it comes to corn and soybeans.

“Despite the fact we had very large increases in input costs, particularly for higher productivity soils, there’s actually a positive margin for both corn and soybeans,” Langemeier says.

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Farmers who make smart management decisions can maximize their profits despite high input costs, he says. “In the current environment, make sure that every practice or treatment pays,” Langemeier says.

He advises weighing additional yield or cost reduction by using a particular product against that product’s cost.

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Managing Fertilizers

Nitrogen (N) fertilizer is the most important and significant variable for corn production, says Dan Quinn, Purdue University Extension agronomist. For 2022, consider fertilizing for maximum economic net return rather than maximum yield, he says.

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“When you look at corn response to nitrogen fertilizer, it’s not linear,” he says. “We can’t just keep applying more and more nitrogen to get more and more yield.”

As N application rates increase, the yield response and cost of return eventually plateau, he says. By focusing on maximizing economic return, farmers can ensure they get the most out of their applications.

Depending on the situation, soybean growers may be able to forgo phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) applications.

“In soybean fertility, one thing we look at within the Indiana system is that we want to build up and maintain,” says Shaun Casteel, a Purdue University Extension agronomist. “When we looked at doing phosphorus and potassium applications over the years, we build up and we keep those fertility levels above the critical levels. In doing that, we’re maintaining at the best place that we can rather than falling off the cliff. We’ve got a few more steps before we fall off that cliff in fertility.”

Soil testing can help farmers make decisions that best fit their budget.

“If potassium and phosphorus are limiting, obviously we want to fertilize for that,” Casteel says. “We can’t optimize profitability if we can’t optimize some of the basic foundational things.” 

Rethink Seeds

For farmers looking to further cut input costs, 2022 may be the year to reevaluate the way they think about seeds and seeding rates.

“A lot of our seed production in the 2021 season was under some stress, so seed quality might be not as good,” Casteel says. Farmers should ask about a seed lot’s germination scores, cool germination availability, and vigor rating.

Management decisions based on seed quality can boost the productivity of poor seeds. Seed with 90% germination with poor vigor could be bolstered by a fungicide seed treatment or thicker planting, he says.

Adjusting seeding rates could also help reduce input costs.“If I increase my seeding rate from 33,000 seeds per acre up to 34,000 seeds per acre, it’s usually about $3 to $4 per acre,” Quinn says. “If you’re getting up to those higher seeding rates, is it really worth squeezing out those last few bushels?”

Research from Purdue University suggests that 28,000 plants per acre and 35,000 plants per acre have a difference of only about 1 bushel per acre at harvest, Quinn says.

“You’re looking at about 0.5% to 1% difference in yield across that wide range of seeding rates,” Quinn says. “It’s a pretty flat response to seeding rates. If you’re applying high seeding rates, you can back some of those off and still get the same amount of yield.” Target soybean plant populations also offer room to cut back.

“The seed rate will change, but our target plant population won’t,” Casteel says. “Our target is 100,000 to 120,000 plants per acre, and that’s got a lot of buffer to it.”

Finely tuned equipment and optimal field conditions can also help minimize seeding rates, Casteel says.

Have a Plan B for Weed Control

Increased prices and potential shortages could leave farmers unable to access their usual herbicides.

“Going into this fall, many retailers and the basic manufacturers had warned that they were probably looking at some pretty severe price increases,” says Bill Johnson, a Purdue University Extension weed specialist. “That’s in the event that we can get our supplies of two active ingredients, glyphosate [Group 9] and glufosinate [Group 10].”

Farmers who heavily rely on glyphosate in particular should be considering alternatives now.

“We think the glufosinate shortage will probably have a lesser impact, because we don’t spray that much glufosinate compared with glyphosate,” Johnson says. “For the most part, we’re using it in soybeans as a single postemergence treatment, and we’re not utilizing it in the burndown.”

Utilizing a weed control guide can help farmers make informed management decisions.

“There are some useful tools in there that can help you make alternative plans,” Johnson says. “One key with those alternative plans is not only how do you use the guide, but also do you know which weeds you’re targeting in each field?”

An alternative management plan could also benefit farmers who are able to purchase herbicides this spring. Regardless of access to sufficient glyphosate and glufosinate, make preemergence residual herbicides the backbone of a weed control program, Johnson says. This will ensure that postemergence herbicides will just do cleanup.

“That’s going to take a lot less pressure off the yield curve from the standpoint of weed competition,” Johnson says.

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