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Crop Production: The stakes have changed but should your betting strategy?

Even as historically high crop prices have producers working to figure out the best way to proceed in cropping decisions this year, a Kansas State University entomologist is encouraging them not to forget basic best management practices.

"Today´s commodity prices have people thinking about their cropping decisions, but just because you have moved from the penny ante table to the high stakes table doesn´t mean your betting strategy should change," said K-State Research and Extension state leader in entomology, Phil Sloderbeck. "Your odds of return don´t necessarily change just because of the size of the bet."

True, it may take fewer bushels to pay for an insecticide treatment or other chemical application, said Sloderbeck, who is based in the K-State Research and Extension southwest area office. However, if the pest is not there or if other factors are limiting yields, there may be little chance of a positive return.

"Coffee shop discussions this winter seem to be focusing on all sorts of questionable practices trying to maximize crop yields," he said. "That´s not too surprising given the record high commodity prices. However, the smart investor should probably still focus on proven best management practices even though the economics have changed."

Variety selection, fertility, pest management, irrigation, timely planting and harvesting are still going to be the critical decisions between profit and loss, the entomologist said. Betting on proven practices such as using certified seed, soil testing, field scouting and irrigation scheduling will all tend to improve a grower´s chances of positive returns.

Higher grain prices will lower economic thresholds, however they don´t eliminate the need for scouting and applying treatments in a timely manner, Sloderbeck said.

"Adding insecticides or fungicides to fertilizer or herbicide applications only makes economic sense if pests are present and the timing is correct," he said. "Otherwise you are just making a random bet. Sure, there are times that you may win, but the only proven winner is the house that gets a percentage of the money bet or, in this case, the companies selling the product."

So, as the stakes go up, it actually may be more important to make safe bets, he added.

"Pay down the loans, purchase new equipment to improve efficiency and timeliness of practices, adjust fertilizer rates to rebuild soil that may have been mined during years of poor returns, pay more for improved higher yielding seed, update or improve irrigation equipment, and hire a crop consultant to improve pest management decisions," Sloderbeck said.

"As for new or unproven practices, there is nothing wrong with experimenting with these on a few acres, but just be careful not to bet the whole farm, and don´t expect these practices to make up for other major problems," he said. "In other words, even with higher commodity prices, one needs to focus on the proven best management practices and only make small side bets on unproven practices."

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