You can’t measure what you don’t monitor. Assuming the old business adage is true, do you have a strategy for evaluating this year’s crops? Before your attention fully shifts to harvest prep, now is a good time to plan your approach.
Whether commodity prices are high or low, it’s important to fine-tune production practices and inputs to maximize profitability. When prices are good, we often find it easier to chase higher yields. When markets swing the other direction, we tend to cut — sometimes to the point of skimping. But if we monitor so we can measure — year in and year out — we’ll have a solid knowledge base to help guide our decisions.
On-farm research requires dedicated effort but can return invaluable information. Replicated trials are a great way to evaluate an additional input or changed practice in your operation. Michigan State University Extension offers a helpful guide for collecting and analyzing on-farm trial data.1 The good news is you can apply many of the same evaluation principles across your fields this fall even if you didn’t conduct formal research. Simply be aware of these considerations during harvest and document your findings:
- Be observant. Pay close attention to differences among your fields and within individual fields. Can you trace differences to a specific reason, such as seeding rate, pesticide program, fertility, etc.?
- Calibrate your yield monitor and use it. Take the extra step and double-check results with a weigh wagon or across a scale.
- Calculate your loss or gain. Yield is important, but if you invested more — planting a racehorse hybrid on some of your better ground or increasing the seeding rate — did it pay off?
If you’ve never conducted formal research on your farm, consider it for next year. Michigan State has a guide for that, too. 2
Test your stalks
This year likely put your nitrogen strategy to the test. Fall is an excellent time to see how it measured up. A corn stalk nitrate test can show whether the crop was overfertilized during the growing season or if it was nitrogen-deficient or if nitrogen levels were optimal.
The test is relatively easy and economical. Up to three weeks after black layer formation on 80 percent of the kernels, cut 8-inch segments from 6 to 14 inches above the ground. Take 15 cuttings per sample. Avoid diseased or damaged stalks. Remove the sheaths and place the stalks in a paper bag (mold will form in plastic bags). Send the samples to the laboratory immediately and have them analyzed for nitrates. Most land-grant universities, including the University of Nebraska and Iowa State University, offer stalk nitrate test how-to and analysis guidance. 3 4
Gather data on the go
For the ultimate in crop evaluation, put Case IH Advanced Farming Systems (AFS) harvest monitoring and mapping tools to work on your farm. These innovations give you intuitive solutions that help you gather information right away. You can monitor, map and evaluate data about your crops’ performance. When you integrate these harvest data tools with other Case IH innovations, such as variety tracking and guidance and steering, you can achieve year-to-year repeatable accuracy from sub-inch levels and beyond.
However you evaluate this year’s successes or opportunities for improvement, what’s most important is that you do it. Map out your data-gathering plan. Select a lab, collect the materials you’ll need to gather stalk samples and send them to the diagnostic lab. Work with your Case IH dealer to implement the Case IH AFS tools best suited to your operation. The better you prepare today, the less likely you’ll be to push off a thorough evaluation of your crops. Remember, the return on the productivity of next season’s harvests starts with this season’s harvest.
1Rossman, D. Evaluate your field crop on-farm research. Michigan State University Extension website. http://msue.anr.msu.edu/news/evaluate_your_field_crop_on_farm_research. Accessed August 13, 2015.
2Rossman, D. On-farm research: Will that really pay off on my farm? Michigan State University Extension website. http://msue.anr.msu.edu/news/on_farm_research_will_that_really_pay_on_my_farm. Accessed August 13, 2015.
3Shapiro, C. Use fall corn stalk tests to guide nitrogen rates. University of Nebraska-Lincoln website. http://cropwatch.unl.edu/archive/-/asset_publisher/VHeSpfv0Agju/content/4642810. Accessed August 13, 2015.
4Blackmer A.M. and Mallarino A.P. Cornstalk testing to evaluate nitrogen management. Iowa State University website. https://store.extension.iastate.edu/Product/pm1584-pdf. Accessed August 13, 2015.