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Top 10 profitable practices — plus 10 that fell short — in 2020

Tom J Bechman pile of lime
LOW PH TRIMS PROFITS: One of the big payoffs in the Precision Technology Institute studies was applying lime over the past three years on very low-pH soils and boosting 2020 soybean yields.
Precision Planting’s PTI reports on most-profitable and least-profitable tests from 2020.

The Precision Technology Institute near Pontiac, Ill., tests dozens of products and practices each session. This roughly 300-acre farm is operated by Precision Planting and managed by Jason Webster.

“We’re looking for products and practices that pencil out on the bottom line,” Webster says. “We report yields, but we also look at economics.”

10 most-profitable practices

Here are the 10 most-profitable practices in PTI tests in 2020:

1. Strip-till high-yield irrigated corn. Irrigating with Netafim drip tape designed by NutraDrip resulted in 350 bushels per acre with one hybrid, 342 with another. The tape was laid on top of the ground, with emitters every 24 inches. Nine inches of water was applied. Extra nutrients were also applied. The average net increase over dryland corn was $202.68 per acre.

2. High-yield, irrigated, 20-inch, strip-till cover crop soybeans. Ryegrass was planted in the fall with a LAND LUVR strip freshener and APV seeder, then 20-inch strips were formed between the ryegrass. Soybeans were planted on the strips and irrigated with drip tape, as in the first practice. Yield was 95 bushels per acre, with an economic gain of $159.42 over the non-irrigated control. By adding starter with the FurrowJet package, yields reached 105 bushels per acre and net income increased another $31.73 per acre, Webster says.

3. Triple Split-nitrogen application using Conceal system. Applying nitrogen three times vs. applying 100% upfront in a “weed and feed” application delivered $106.50 more net gain per acre, Webster says. Triple N applications outperformed dual applications and single applications.

4. High-yield, irrigated, 30-inch row soybeans. The same drip irrigation system was used, and a variety of fertilizer products were also tried, Webster notes. Yields for irrigated beans topped 100 bushels per acre, more than 20 bushels per acre above non-irrigated, control beans. Costs due to treatments applied also increased. The net gain was $93.35 per acre.

Tom J. BechmanJason Webster points to moisture available to these soybeans irrigate through aboveground drip irrigation

WATER HELPS! Jason Webster points to moisture available to these soybeans via above-ground drip irrigation on a hot, dry day.

5. Corn strip-crop planting. This rather complex study looked at a concept some have tried for decades — alternating strips of corn and soybeans to increase corn yields. Gains were $88.13 per acre for corn, Webster says. The PTI crew evaluated gains and losses per pairs of corn rows. However, soybeans lost yield (see No. 6 under least-profitable practices) so there’s more work to do, Webster says.

6. Conventional-till, irrigated, high-yield continuous corn. “We wanted to see how our high-yield corn recipes performed under irrigation,” Webster explains. “Three of four hybrids yielded over 300 bushels per acre, with the average just over 301.” Various combinations of additives were tried. Despite increased costs, increased yield still helped net an average of $78.19 per acre more than the control.

7. Split-nitrogen application over 100% “weed and feed” nitrogen. Even splitting nitrogen application for corn to 50% pre and 50% sidedressed vs. 100% pre “weed and feed” produced $72.61 more per acre.

8. Soybean seeding rate. A Golden Harvest soybean variety, GH3546X, netted $61.08 more per acre at 75,000 seeds per acre vs. 175,000. It reached economic optimum at 75,000. Asgrow Ag 27X0 reached economic optimum at 100,000 seeds per acre, $53.78 above the same variety seeded at 50,000.

9. Low pH and ag lime for soybeans. In a three-year study, liming was compared to maintaining a low pH soil at 5.1 and not adding lime. The highest profit, $58.98 per acre, in soybeans was recorded in 2020 on areas where lime was applied in 2018 and 2019, but not in 2020.

10. Fertilizer treatment in corn. Nachurs imPulse 10-18-4 liquid starter at 5 gallons per acre applied in Precision Planting’s FurrowJet tri-band configuration netted $55.60 per acre more vs. control.

10 least-profitable practices

Here are the 10 least-profitable practices in PTI tests in 2020:

1. Late-planting date for soybeans. Planting May 23 in 2020 cost $291.86 more per acre than planting on the optimum dates in early to mid-April. Webster notes that over the past three years, planting early vs. mid-May gained an average of more than 16 bushels per acre.

2. June 1 late-planted corn. The optimum planting date on this farm in 2020 for corn was April 23. Planting June 1 cost $209.68 per acre more than planting April 23.

3. May 14-planted soybeans. Mid-May brought a cool spell, and soybeans yields were affected. The loss vs. planting in early April was $195.52 per acre.

4. Planting corn with a low-saturated cold germ test. This cost $185.20 per acre. Webster notes that certain hybrids score low on a test replicating saturated and cold soils, even though it may still be a good hybrid. If you plant one and get those conditions, it affects emergence. Some seed companies have this information, or you can have a lab test your seed, he says.

5. Planting corn on April 5. Due to weather conditions, there was a huge difference planting April 5 and even six days later on April 11, Webster says. The loss compared to the optimum date of April 23 was $167.54 per acre.

6. Strip-cropping soybeans. While corn benefitted from alternating strips, soybeans suffered, especially in the rows nearest the corn. Losses were roughly $150 per acre. Webster still hasn’t given up on the idea, hoping to try narrower blocks to reduce soybean acreage.

7. Planting corn 1 inch deep. This proved to be far too shallow vs. 2 inches in 2020. SmartFirmers confirmed soil moisture was well below the 32% optimum level. It was a $138.07 per acre error.

8. Setting the planter wrong. Picking the wrong downforce setting, not removing residue with row cleaners and achieving only 95% singulation cost $108 per acre compared with setting these correctly. Surprisingly, these “all wrong” settings weren’t that different from some actual on-farm planter set-ups.

9. Too little downforce on corn. Study after study indicates applying the right amount of downforce per row is critical. Not applying enough cost $83.52 per acre in this study. Too light was 175 pounds of up and 100 pounds of down pressure, vs. allowing the DeltaForce hydraulic system to adjust automatically.

10. Too heavy on downforce on corn. You can also apply too much downforce, Webster says. In this case in 2020, it cost $41.35 per acre. “Too much” was 550 pounds of down pressure and 100 pounds of up vs. allowing the system to operate and adjust automatically.

TAGS: Planting
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