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Three decisions play a vital role in plant health and profitability.

Elizabeth Hodges, Staff Writer

March 7, 2024

4 Min Read
Field of crops
PREPPING FOR PROFITABILITY: There are a lot of factors that producers must take into consideration when managing plant health. Taking these suggestions into consideration can help maximize profitability and yields. Elizabeth Hodges

Cropping decisions have consequences — not only for the health of the plant in the field, but also ultimately for profits at harvesttime.

Plant health is always top of mind, especially approaching the start of the growing season. It can be a balancing act managing both profitability and plant health. So, what management practices should farmers consider this year that will ensure plant health and maximize yield?

“Every decision we make in crop management from seed selection and planting to harvest can have a significant impact on reaching top yields,” says Brad Miller, a Dekalb and Asgrow technical agronomist.

While each operation needs different management practices, these management tips are something to consider when looking at maximizing yields by focusing on plant health.

Yield = G x E x M

“Most will recognize this formula for crop production where yield potential is driven by the interaction of genetics [seed selection] and environment [growing conditions],” Miller says.

But one part that most people forget about in this formula is that management also plays a role. Looking at the three practices of seed selection, planting dates and crop protection, all three are decisions that play a vital role in plant health and profitability:

1. Seed selection. Miller urges producers to look at yield data from across multiple locations and use multiyear data when available. When identifying what products are doing well across weather conditions, soil types and yield levels, it can bring clarity to which genetics are worth the investment. Looking into what diseases and insects they protect against is also crucial when selecting seed. Seeing if they will be able to handle other agronomic challenges such as early planting, poorly drained ground or drought stress is critical.

2. Planting date. Instead of using the adage of planting the day after Mother’s Day, Miller recommends farmers consider planting based on the soil temperature. In Miller’s experience, soybeans can withstand colder spring conditions than corn. The ideal planting conditions producers should be on the lookout for include 50 degrees F soil temperature, measured at a 2-inch depth when moisture levels are not excessive. When planting in cooler and wetter soil conditions, occurrence of pathogen infections and delayed emergence are higher.

3. Crop protection. Weed control is No. 1 when talking about crop protection. To get a head start on weeds, make sure to start fresh with a burndown or tillage practice. Miller urges farmers to always use a preplant or preemergence residual herbicide program with multiple modes of action. Follow up with a postemergence herbicide program for weeds that might have made it past the first application.

Cutting costs, not yield

Foliar fungicide application can be the best tool to fight diseases attacking crops in the field. Miller suggests using Delaro Complete to reduce the impact of gray leaf spot, northern corn leaf blight or tar spot in corn. For soybeans, this fungicide can help control diseases such as sclerotinia white mold or frogeye leaf spot.

Choosing the correct tool to fight different diseases will be the key to cutting costs while still maximizing yield.

“In order to maintain maximum yield potential, there are practices such as maintaining adequate fertility to meet your yield goals, or weed, disease and insect control practices that should not be compromised,” Miller says.

For corn, Miller adds that being selective with foliar fungicide applications can help reduce costs. By only spraying fields that have a higher potential for disease, such as continuous corn or hybrids that have a lower disease tolerance score, input costs can be decreased. He suggests a mobile app, Tarspotter, that can help farmers determine if a fungicide should be applied.

Miller says a late-season fungicide application for corn should be applied at VT/R1 to provide up to three weeks of protection through R3. Depending on environmental conditions, it might be justifiable to apply a second fungicide application to protect the crop through grain fill.

“The bottom line is to never give up on a crop,” he says.

One practice that Miller suggests will cut costs for soybeans is using lower seeding rates. Soybeans can compensate for reduced plant population with additional branches. This practice is most effective with an early-spring planting in mid-April to mid-May. However, if farmers are planting in late May, seeding rates must be increased to maximize yield.

Taking these management practices into consideration in combination with consulting an agronomist can help farmers maximize yield and ensure good plant health while not breaking the bank.

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About the Author(s)

Elizabeth Hodges

Staff Writer, Farm Progress

Growing up on a third-generation purebred Berkshire hog operation, Elizabeth Hodges of Julian, Neb., credits her farm background as showing her what it takes to be involved in the ag industry. She began her journalism career while in high school, reporting on producer progress for the Midwest Messenger newspaper.

While a student at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, she became a Husker Harvest Days intern at Nebraska Farmer in 2022. The next year, she was hired full time as a staff writer for Farm Progress. She plans to graduate in 2024 with a double major in ag and environmental sciences communications, as well as animal science.

Being on the 2022 Meat Judging team at UNL led her to be on the 2023 Livestock Judging team, where she saw all aspects of the livestock industry. She is also in Block and Bridle and has held different leadership positions within the club.

Hodges’ father, Michael, raises hogs, and her mother, Christy, is an ag education teacher and FFA advisor at Johnson County Central. Hodges is the oldest sibling of four.

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