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Dr. Dan Talks Agronomy
Friday, March 27, 2015 10:51AM CDT

By Daniel Davidson
DTN Contributing Agronomist

We all know commodity prices are depressed. The question at every farmer meeting I've attended recently has been how to cut production budgets or, at the very least, be conservative without sacrificing yield. The goal is profit.

Soybeans present an interesting challenge. The perception is that growers don't invest much in soybeans, so they can't cut back. That may have been true in past years, but inputs have increased as many growers started embracing better soybean management practices and productivity.

Before you start shedding those improvements in an effort to economize, take these steps to produce high yields with minimum investment:

-- Strive to select the highest-yielding variety you can to maximize revenue per acre.
-- Plant early to maximize bushels produced per acre.
-- Plant in the right soil conditions to optimize plant stand.
-- Make sure phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) levels are above the critical soil test level.
-- Start with clean fields and keep them clean through row closure.

From there, shaving costs boils down to possibly trimming:

- Seed cost
- Seed treatment
- Foliar feeding
- Foliar insecticides as a prophylactic
- Foliar fungicides as a prophylactic

Treated soybean seed can cost upwards of $85 per unit if planting 140,000 seeds per acre (one unit of seed plus treatment).

It has long been said that 100,000 plants per acre (ppa) at harvest maximizes yield. The question is what population at planting achieves an evenly distributed 100,000 ppa harvest stand? Some growers are confident in their practices and will plant 120,000 seeds per acre and other growers plant a unit, or 140,000. Yet others will want to push the population to 160,000 to make sure they have a good stand.

This is a good year to reevaluate seeding rate and make sure you aren't just going on past habit. If you are confident in your ability to plant into a good seedbed and get a good stand, a reduction in population could reduce seed and seed treatment costs.

If you are not comfortable cutting back the population in general because of soil and field history issues that contribute to a poor stand, consider variable-rate seeding. Cut back the seeding rate for the racehorse areas of a field and maintain your higher rate in the marginal soil areas.

The big question is do you pay $10 to $20 per unit or acre or more to treat seed? An even bigger question may be do you even have a choice in the decision? I have been in numerous conversations this winter with other agronomists and farmers on this topic, and there is no easy answer.

Premium seed treatments and inoculum can tack on $10 to $30 per acre. Seed treatments are particularly important when you plant early; have reduced planting populations; plant into black, heavy soils; or plant into fields with a history of seedling diseases or insect pressure. Some seed companies and dealers provide a choice on seed treatments, some only offer a premium package and others won't sell seed without treatments. Ask what options you have and uncover any hidden costs that might not be needed in your situation.

Foliar feeding may be the most likely area to cut back this year. This practice may make sense when commodity prices are good because it is easier to get a return on investment. However, foliar feeding is one of those nebulous areas where it's difficult to measure a response and results are often anecdotal.

Protecting yield is important, so applying an insecticide or fungicide in time of need is a critical decision. This year, the question is whether a prophylactic or just-in-case treatments are justified. Insecticides and fungicides protect yield, but scouting and as-needed applications can be more prudent in years when trying to stay above breakeven and make a profit.

The bottom line is growing soybeans is about producing bushels, but it also means choosing practices that produce a return on investment.

For more on the economics of seed treatments: http://www.coolbean.info/…


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