Tomorrow is New Year’s Eve, a time for looking back, making resolutions, and looking ahead. Most farmers have probably reviewed 2012 enough and are ready to look forward. As of today, no one can predict the 2013 growing season. This column certainly doesn’t pretend to predict the future. However, there are certainly some actions producers can take regardless of what the growing season brings.
· Soil test – If ever there was time when a good soil test program can pay for itself, it’s this coming year. With the price of fertilizers, seed, and fuel; not having to spend money on fertilizer you don’t need is money in the bank. This is especially true with all the failed or nearly failed acres from 2012. At a minimum, soil testing should include pH, LTI (lime test index), phosphorus (P), sulfur (S), and nitrogen (N). If these fertilizers were applied for the 2012 crop, there is a good chance much of these nutrients are still available for the 2013 crop. This is especially true for P, S, and likely for N. With the lack of nutrient removal by crops and heavy rains, producers may be able to decrease fertilizer inputs. It may be that only some starter P may be recommended. The exception may be where the residue was removed by baling. Except for the profile N-test which should be done closer to planting, the average soil test can be done when conditions permit.
· Tillage – if conditions remain dry, getting tillage done as early as possible is a good idea. Hopefully the only tillage remaining close to planting will be shallow (less than 3 inches). Performing tillage in a manner to leave surface residue is most desirable. This will help lessen the probability of erosion and decrease evaporation. No-tillage may be the best idea if producers have the proper equipment and the soil has some structure. The downside is if the ground is in poor condition and lacks structure, no-tillage may be worse than tillage. In this case, strip tillage may be a good option. No matter what tillage program is chosen, as planting time approaches controlling weeds chemically is the safest option to save soil moisture.
· Herbicide and weed history – Taking time to consider the weed problems experienced in 2012 and the herbicides used just makes sense. Herbicide carryover is typically greater when rainfall is lacking to assist in breakdown. If atrazine was used, especially at higher rates, atrazine sensitive crops may be at greater risk with the lack of moisture. If your soil pH levels are fairly acidic it limits the effectiveness of certain chemistries. Fields particularly weedy in 2012 may require the selection of Roundup Ready ® crops.
· If the equipment is available and a producer has the need or market, consider planting feed crops for hay, grazing, or silage. The market is strong for feed and it is generally easier to producer feed than grain.
· Diversify acres – If possible, producers should consider spreading risk by planting a greater diversity of crops. This can include selecting a greater range of maturity of crops such as corn, soybeans, and sorghum or including feed crops like sorghum Sudan crosses. The key here is making sure you have the equipment, storage, and markets to make economic sense.
There is more and most producers are already considering these strategies. Have a safe and Happy New year.