10 steps to increase yields

Want to increase the bushels you sell on your farm each year? I have two solutions for you. The first is to acquire more land. The second is to better utilize the ground you already have. While I’d love to help you with the first option, it’s more realistic for me to help you with the second.

So here (in no particular order) are the top 10 things you can do this spring to increase the number of bushels you’ll sell after harvest. Most of these have to do with corn, but some apply to soybean production as well.

1. Change things up. We’ve all heard the definition of insanity — “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” So the first thing you need to do is change something in your operation. This sounds simple, but when is the last time you made a change?

2. Increase your population. More bushels are lost by not planting enough seed than by trying to hold back. On average, in our area, we get around 5 bushels of corn per 1,000 seeds planted. So if you add 4,000 more ears per acre, that should result in 20 more bushels, right? In a perfect world, sure. We all know our conditions are not perfect, but it’s sure hard to get that next 20 bushels without having the seed out there to produce it. Plant a few “hot streaks” in your field, bumping the population up 4,000 seeds, and test it for yourself.

3. Check planting depth. In my trials I have seen an 11-bushel decrease per acre by planting the seed at 3 inches (1 inch deeper than recommended). Placing the seed too shallow — under ¾ inch — can cost you the whole field if you get poor emergence or lodging later in the season. A planting depth of 1½ to 2 inches for corn and 1 to 2 inches for soybeans is ideal.

4. Watch your speed. Standard seed tubes on planters are designed for up to 5 mph. Once your speed surpasses that, the chance of the seed skipping down the seed trench increases, leading to skips and doubles and resulting in yield loss. Keep it under 5 mph if you can, unless the dark cloud in the west is too threatening.

5. Be flexible on planting date. With the genetics and seed treatments that are available today, seed has better stress tolerance and can be pushed a bit by planting it earlier. Watch your soil temperature and soil conditions, but research has shown close to a 1-bushel-per-day loss in corn yields if you wait.

6. Maintain your planter. Your planter starts the seed on its journey to higher yields, and if it does a bad job, you can’t expect to have a bumper crop. Check your seed tubes for wear. From what I’ve seen, the new precision plates and fingers are worth the investment, and I have no preference about where you get them.

7. Select the right hybrid/variety. You should have seed ordered by now — but if you place a hybrid/variety on the wrong ground, it can be very costly to your yield. Placing a defensive variety on good ground — or vice versa — will take away your top-end yields.

8. Monitor fertility. With the saturated ground we’ve had, fall-applied N may be lost or reduced. A simple soil test on each field may be your biggest return on investment. Identifying a hole in your crop’s nutrition needs early can save you in the end. Tissue testing early on your “hot streaks” is a good way of grading your fertility in the field.

9. Apply insecticides and seed treatments. While these won’t add bushels to your crop, they will save bushels. Most corn today has a seed-applied insecticide, or SAI, already protecting it from wireworm and seed corn maggot. Consistent seed treatment use in soybeans has shown good results, and for less than the cost of a half bushel of beans, it is a relatively cheap input. Don’t forget inoculant on your saturated ground either.

10. Survey planting conditions. I already mentioned planting early, but don’t rush it if the ground isn’t fit. Sidewall compaction from the openers can reduce root growth. If the root cannot break through that wall, its mass will be greatly reduced, leading to reduced uptake of water and nutrients. You can also have poor seed-to-soil contact, leading to poor or uneven emergence.

While these are not the only factors that can affect your total bushels in the fall, they are the most important ones that you can adjust this spring to bring you higher yields.

Spelhaug is an agronomist with Petersons Farms Seed, Harwood, N.D. Contact him at 866-481-7333 or visit www.petersonfarmsseed.com.

This article published in the April, 2010 edition of DAKOTA FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2010.