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Things NOT to Do This Spring

Before you start kicking up dust this spring as planting gets rolling, make sure you're not only doing everything right but also avoiding the things you shouldn't be doing, whether it be small-scale agronomic matters or farmwide management decisions.

Every seed counts. That's especially true now with most crop budgets tighter than in recent years. Make sure you're cutting costs in the right places, says one mid-South agronomist.

"Farmers are looking where to cut production budgets for 2015," says University of Kentucky Extension agronomist Chad Lee. "Use appropriate soil-applied fertilizers based on soil tests, and use highly effective weed control, which probably includes a soil residual herbicide."

The importance of these segments of the production equation won't surprise anybody. Yet, that won't stop farmers from looking to them to cut costs. Lee says that's a bad idea, especially considering the potential long tail of the downside of shorting your weed control and fertilizer.  

"A representative soil test is our best indicator for what the field needs to produce soybeans. If a soil is deficient, lime and soil-applied fertilizers based on a soil test help ensure that soybeans will not lack for nutrients. On the flip side, a soil test may indicate that no additional fertilizer is needed in a particular field. If a soil test suggests no fertilizer needed, then that guideline results in huge savings without impacting yield," he adds. "In a year like 2015, some producers will be tempted to try to sneak by with a single postemergence herbicide timing. They may be tempted to let some weeds get big so that others will germinate and all can be controlled with a single pass. This practice almost always costs more in yield loss than what was spent on a second herbicide application. Getting weeds removed BEFORE they compete with the soybean crop will help maintain high yield potential. In addition, letting some weeds escape this year only results in more problems next year."

Both soil fertility and weed control efforts are also hampered down the road if you simply decide to plant the wrong crop. On acres that were in soybeans last year, some farmers may still be compelled to plant beans again. They shouldn't. For myriad reasons -- (fertility and weed control to name two), beans-after-beans is a bad idea, says University of Missouri Extension soybean specialist Bill Wiebold.

Even if you think you could make more money with soybeans, potential yield losses from repeating soybeans could be enough to make up for any additional payback offered by beans on paper. Wiebold says second-year soybeans typically yield about 12% less than than the first year. "A single year of corn can erase this yield problem," he says.

However, in states like Wiebold's Missouri, continuous soybeans aren't all that uncommon. Raising them effectively depends on heightened attention to soil nutrients, namely nitrogen and potassium. It also takes a sharp eye on erosion potential, as soybean residue doesn't provide the soil as much protection from the elements as cornstalks do.

"Obviously, farmers have to make money," Wiebold says in a university report. "But they need to calculate how having corn in their rotation increases yield."

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