The outlook for moisture in 2013 is out there. The consensus is for more moisture but nowhere near enough to recharge subsoil moisture. However, models are predicting a pattern change that should result in a more normal weather pattern for 2014. What can area producers do to make it through the 2013 growing season?
• Back off acreage of dryland soybeans and corn. Don’t abandon all dryland corn and soybean but decrease acreage and replace those acres with more drought tolerant crops. Consider more grain sorghum where practical. Sorghum can be used as part of the ethanol mandate and the price is good. There are more sorghum herbicide options than in prior years and newer hybrids have improved traits, including yield potential.
• If a producer has the equipment and can use or market the crop, plant feed crops such as Sudan grass or sorghum X Sudan hybrids. Hay should remain in short supply so prices are strong. It’s much easier to produce vegetation than grain. And if conditions are good, several good cuttings are possible. If a producer needs forage and wants a crop needing minimal water, hybrid pearl millet is an excellent feed option.
• Plant crops as early in the planting window as practical when temperatures should be more moderate. For corn, if possible be wrapping up planting by the third week of May. While soybeans have more flexibility in seed production and the planting window is wider, early May is a good target date. For dryland soybeans early planting early planting is doubly important. K-State research from Stafford County showed the planting window for sorghum should start in mid-May for optimum yields.
• Select earlier maturing varieties and hybrids. This is especially true for corn and sorghum. Less water used in vegetative growth leaves more for grain production. Even under irrigation, backing off the relative maturity by several days can allow more water for grain production.
• The obvious area to pay particular attention to is pest control. Diseases, weeds, and insects add to plant stress, decrease plant vigor and result in lower yields, especially under moisture limiting conditions.
• Set realistic yield goals, soil test and fertilize accordingly. Also split applications of nitrogen to allow for evaluation of the crop and weather. This allows a producer to reevaluate yield goals.
• While it may not be practical, possible, or wise to move to no-till this spring, perform tillage operations to leave as much residue on the soil surface as possible.
Dr. Victor L. Martin is the agriculture instructor/coordinator for Barton Community College. He can be reached at 620-792-9207, ext. 207.