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CALIBRATION IS KEY Tyler Harris

How to get the most from crop data

10 key areas to look at as you analyze 2019 crop production data.

We gather a massive amount of yield data on every field. What or where should be our diagnostic priorities or analysis to benefit the most from this data base?  J.M. - Maryland

We approach this question through the lens of the various aspects of farming that influence yield. As with so much of the yield data at your fingertips, the biggest question is how far beyond the current year’s conditions does the relevance of your findings extend?

  • Soils- We have tried to justify planting scripts for variable rate population for the past decade. But in 2019, our rainfall was plentiful enough such that for the third time in six years, our less productive soils out yielded our class A areas. On a longer time horizon, our high fertility class B soils will match or surpass the tiled class A soils about 40% of the time due to superior water percolation. A couple of our lead corn hybrids have a semi-fixed ear, such that a lower population in a lesser soil will cost too much in yield when rainfall is enough.
  • Drainage- For much of the Midwest prairie, the primary benefit of yield maps is to assess the economic benefits of adding tile drainage. Productivity improvement is usually about more tile and adequate outlets than fertility levels or tweaking agronomic inputs. The return on investment for tile is only rivaled by the return to adding grain storage and drying facilities.
  • Fertility- Quantify the returns to application timing, rate, and type. Yield enhancement through animal manure vs. conventional fertilizer, spring vs. fall application, stabilizer vs. standard mix, and starter vs. post all have well documented advantages, that you can verify for yourself.
  • Nitrogen- Try to ascertain your MEY (Maximum Economic Yield) levels of nitrogen. We do this on our low organic matter soils by randomly inserting various high rate passes of NH3 throughout fields to compare underlying and adjacent yield data.
  • Seeds- We segregate side-by-side trials in separate loads in our yield monitor to compare differences in yield performance within fields and across fields.
  • Stands- Changing populations on the planter is relatively quick and easy; we do this to try and derive each hybrid’s optimal planting population. Our yield monitor automatically uses the planting map as a layer to show us yield differences by population.  This is a classic case of where the current year’s weather could determine your findings are more of the exception than the rule.
  • Diseases- We apply fungicide all of our corn and beans, so yield data has not typically played a part here.  For many, there were sizeable late outbreaks of disease, such as Northern Leaf Blight in our area, that you might be able to note the returns to applying fungicide at all, or the rates of water and chemical.
  • Tillage- The diverse profiles of the farms in our operation allow us to evaluate tillage differences every year across soil types, slopes, and manure applications.  For our primary tillage in the fall, we compare minimum till with minimum till ripped with straight vs. parabolic shanks.  For secondary tillage in the spring, we compare minimum-till, conventional till, stale seedbed, and no-till. 
  • Seed and soil additives- Our planters are setup to run half application, half check, so we can observe treatments across soil types with our yield data.
  • Wildlife damage- We farm in western Illinois, seemingly the whitetail deer capital of the world. The value of corn and soybeans lost to deer approaches 6 figures nearly every year, and 2019 was no different. We are always trying new deterrent methods and use our yield data to narrow the list of what works best. Documenting yield loss to cash rent landlords is also critical information to share with them.
Jerry and Jason Moss operate Moss Family Farms, Inc., a first-generation corn and contract hog operation in western Illinois. Have a question for Manager's Notebook? Send emails to jmoss@agintellex.com.
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