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Should high corn input costs spur shift to beans?

Tom J. Bechman closeup of sprayer boom applying nitrogen in corn
HINGING ON PRICE, SUPPLY: How much nitrogen you can expect to get and what it will cost may become clearer soon.
Profit Planners: Develop specific budgets and think through production concerns.

Dad is concerned about the high price of nitrogen, and if we can get enough. We’re considering shifting to 60% soybeans, with 300 acres of beans after beans. Would this be smart?

The Profit Planners panel includes David Erickson, farmer, Altona, Ill.: Mark Evans, Purdue University Extension educator, Putnam County, Ind.; Jim Luzar, landowner and retired Purdue Extension educator, Greencastle, Ind.; and Steve Myers, farm manager with Busey Ag Resources, LeRoy, Ill.

Erickson: I am partial to a 50-50 corn-soybean rotation for many reasons, including disease, insect and residue management. Get real answers to your concerns before making a hasty decision. Find out about nitrogen availability and cost before developing a budget that looks at the real numbers of crop profitability. If you didn’t arrange for purchase of nitrogen based on historical needs, you may have a problem that you could have avoided with proper planning.

Evans: Consider the broader issues besides nitrogen costs. How is your soybean cyst nematode pressure? Will you take a bigger clobber with 300 acres of beans after beans? Are there some benefits to having beans in some fields to take care of fall issues since beans could be harvested earlier? Could you use cover crops to scavenge nitrogen from beans for the following year of corn and help with soil vulnerability of beans after beans?

Be persistent to see what you can lock in and flexible enough to consider consequences of beans after beans. You can never predict price and weather accurately. So, you won’t know until fall if your decision is a smart move. How you answer these questions can help you make a smarter move.

Luzar: Evaluate your enterprise budgets, discuss nitrogen procurement with your fertilizer dealer, and make your decision after accounting for all potential impacts on budgets.

Beans following beans may demand some extra investigation with respect to pests like SCN and sudden death syndrome. Your seed dealer can help evaluate varieties that would best follow soybeans.

Weed control considerations may require evaluation of weed pressure history. Corn typically allows for an opportunity to “clean up” weed issues from the prior year. Poorly drained soils may prove more challenging to manage disease. Make sure you factor in possible fungicide treatment for beans and any adjustments to weed and insect control.

On-farm research suggests some yield drag for beans after beans, maybe even 5% to 15%. Budget 10%, even after taking precautions. Net returns for each enterprise may be close. The more control you gain for nitrogen procurement, the vote may be for corn. Evaluate alternative sources of nitrogen that would complement your system.

Uncertainty is not easy to evaluate in a partial budget. The more certainty you can accrue about nitrogen sourcing, the more confident you may feel about keeping your rotation.

Myers: Do the math on an enterprise budget. This would be looking solely at producing an acre (or field) of corn and soybeans using actual yield history for the last five years, fall harvest prices and real-world input costs for each crop. Don’t forget to consider machinery expenses related to each crop. Also consider if a specific field may be better at producing soybeans vs. corn as compared to looking generically. The budget will not tell you what to do but gives you the financial basis for that decision.

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