Crop year review

TAKE THE TIME TO DO A FALL ASSESSMENT

harvest is winding down so you’re done with cropping for the year right? Mostly yes, but it’s worth taking a little bit of time to take a look back over the past year. See what went well and what needs to be changed up. And make the effort to write down your observations so you can look back and assess how well your changes work. Immediately post-harvest isn’t a bad time to do this since combining the field will have given you an opportunity to get a complete and detailed look at the whole field. Harvest is a good time to rediscover issues you forgot, or find new ones you hadn’t noticed before.

spring conditions
Start your review by thinking back to the spring and how things went. Were there any areas in your fields that were obviously wetter than others? This could indicate areas that have broken or plugged tiles or where you need to add some additional tile. Did the field dry out evenly across the whole field surface? If you had alternating wet and dry strips, was this caused by uneven trash distribution or did you leave ridges too uneven with your tillage last fall? Did you over work your fields this spring?  Extra tillage is rarely a good thing since it will reduce the moisture available in the seedbed (essential to save on a year like this), is hard on soil structure, is rarely cheap and may cause you to miss a planting window between rains. Did you do extra passes to break clumps or level the seedbed or was it just recreational tillage? It may be that you need to look at the setup of your tillage equipment or look at using a different piece of equipment to avoid this in the future.

planting
Next look back at the planting season. Have you done the math on how much total seed you used?  You might be surprised. New seed treatments and genetics have significantly reduced stand loss at emergence and it’s not unusual when doing plant population counts to come out with a higher final stand per acre than the grower thought they had dropped seed for. While this usually isn’t a big problem, it may indicate a need to check and calibrate your planter units. Have a conversation with your Certified Crop Advisor (CCA) when you’re ordering seed this fall to make sure you’re planting the population you should. Patterns you may have noticed while combining may give you clues to planter issues. A stunted row in a poor area could indicate a plugged starter fertilizer row or too much/not enough down pressure on a row unit. Paying attention to details like this can help pick up on issues that may not be obvious looking at the whole field, but could still be losing you a lot of bushels.

weed control
Weed control was a challenge in some cases this year. The dry weather made getting good activity from pre-emerge herbicides challenging. Don’t fall into the reflexive desire to move to a strictly post-emergent program next year since you ended up coming back post-emerge this year anyway. Look at the reasons you were doing a pre-emerge program. It may be that the weeds you were targeting with the pre-emerge control are difficult or impossible to control post-emerge. With late emerging weeds such as nightshade or velvetleaf it’s important to have residual control so you need to be selective which post-emerge herbicide you use if you decide to change. The view from the combine seat will allow you to assess how effective your weed control was and see any potential new problems that are emerging (small patches that may go unnoticed under the canopy). Make a note of what escaped and why. Was the herbicide registered for control of the weed, is there a possibility of herbicide resistance (typically a single species escape), or was it just dry weather (typically a mixture of weeds that should have been controlled)? If you’re not sure what the weed is, get it identified.

harvest
At harvest you likely made adjustments to the combine as conditions changed but did you actually check to see how you were doing or did you go on instinct and feel? It’s worth looking at your fields after harvest to see how much harvest loss you had and why. For soybeans, four average sized soybeans per square foot is approximately one bushel per acre loss (three to five percent is considered acceptable loss). For corn, it’s about two kernels per square foot (two to three percent is considered acceptable loss). Also look at where the loss is from to decide what to do about it. Individual kernels probably came out the back of the combine (need combine adjustment) whereas unhusked cobs on the ground likely didn’t make it into the combine in the first place (environment, pests, fertility or hybrid selection could all be the root cause).

These are just a few ideas of things to think about post-harvest this fall. It’s a really good exercise to go through the whole year and look at each phase of the cropping season in detail to see where you can make improvements. In many cases, these changes won’t cost you anything, or will be part of your normal maintenance costs; but they can increase the number of bushels in your bin at the end of the year. 

Remember that everything you do from pre-plant tillage to post-harvest storage can have an impact on your yields and profitability, so take some time to look at everything and decide if it makes sense. •

Crop advisors provide advice and council producers in their decision making process. This responsibility requires a good understanding of science, food safety, technology, economics and environment. Crop advisors combine knowledge in these disciplines with their local experience to render sound recommendations.

If you would like to contact a CCA in your area or if you would like contact information for any of the above mentioned CCAs, please contact the CCA office at (519) 669-3350 or visit the website at www.ccaontario.com.

About Robert Moloney 1 Article
CCA-ON, Boyd's Farm Supply, Fordwich Ontario