Tom Hall, Senior Agronomist, Rooster Strategic Solutions
For many years my family was loyal to red IH equipment. But in the early 1980s we fell in love with a John Deere conservation planter. Why? It was the perfect no-till solution for our farm’s rocky conditions. This conversion to a green planter taught me the importance of keeping your eyes wide open to new technologies and agronomic practices.
One of the best places I’ve found to discover agronomic advancements is the Precision Planting Precision Technology Institute (PTI) in Pontiac, Illinois. I visited this research farm in 2015 and was impressed to find engineers designing and building prototypes in a machine shop on a working farm.
Precision Planting recently released a video with a “Top 10” list of agronomic practices from their 2019 corn and soybean trials at the PTI farm. According to the agronomist in the video, these are “The top ten things that made us the most money on a per-acre basis.” You might expect to find the list dominated by Precision Planting products, since they run the PTI. But most of the practices were “color-neutral” agronomic tools that any farmer could use to improve profitability.
If you have clients, customers, or friends who grow row crops, you’ll definitely want to point them to this video.
Here are a few of the practices – and their returns on investment – that surprised me:
30-inch tile spacing with irrigation: $273/acre. Every farmer remembers how wet it was last year, so it wasn’t a surprise to see that tiling made the list. What was surprising, however, was how much of a difference tiling made when combined with drip-tape irrigation. PTI tested three different tile spacings – 30-foot, 60-foot, and 120-foot – and found 30-foot had the best return on investment. They used drip tape in conjunction with the tile as part of an ongoing water management and recycling study. This combination led to the huge ROI, which frankly shocked me.
Banding fertilizer on both sides of soybean rows: $84/acre. PTI used their Conceal placement device and a 14-12-4-6 product from Marco fertilizer (14-percent nitrogen, 12-percent phosphorus, 4-percent potassium, 6-percent sulphur). They applied with a planter, three inches off to the side, one-and-a-half inches deep. The result? They saw a 9-bushels-per-acre increase. To get high yields like this it’s not enough to rely on a simple potassium soil test; you have to think about placement and the type of fertilizer in the seeding zone.
Three applications of nitrogen: $50/acre. In this test, PTI applied nitrogen as a “weed-and-feed” with a herbicide, at planting time with their Conceal product, and side-dressed the balance. According to the video’s agronomist, this is an ongoing test that has proven its ROI for several years.
The work of Dr. Fred Below, an agronomist at the University of Illinois, shows that fertilizer placed below and to the side of the row is a critical component of higher yields because the placement supports a larger and more-fibrous root system that can increase nutrient and water uptake.
I know that in the past I’ve been guilty of starving my soybeans of nitrogen, potassium, and probably sulphur, too. I just didn’t realize how much money I was leaving on the table by doing so.
These are just a few of the highlights from the video, and it’s definitely worth watching to see the others. The tough times we’re in cry out for innovation to help improve profitability, and PTI is a great place to find solutions to help place and apply products to improve the bottom line.
In these tough times we can’t afford to be complacent. Doing what we’ve always done isn’t going to get us out of our current economic crisis. We need to keep our eyes open for innovative agronomic work being done by people we trust to find new ideas that improve efficiency and reduce costs. This video from Precision Planting is a great place to start, and I’d encourage row-crop producers to watch it, test their assumptions, and improve their agronomy game.