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Decision making in agriculture
Dr. Victor Martin

The drought monitor report as of Tuesday, Sept. 20, indicates an ever-increasing expansion of extreme over most of Barton County. Currently the outlook is past grim for fall wheat planting in much of the state and the recent rains helped a little but most areas don’t have any subsoil moisture. 

The six to ten-day outlook (Sept. 27 to Oct. 1) indicates a 50 to 60% chance of above normal temperatures and normal to a 40 to 50% chance of below normal precipitation. The eight to 14-day outlook (Sept. 29 to Oct. 5) indicates our area a 60 to 70% chance of above temperatures and 33 to 40% chance of below normal precipitation.  

The question of how to make the correct decisions in life applies to us all. However, agricultural producer decisions are even harder to make.  Today, let’s briefly discuss how decisions are made in agriculture. What goes into that decision?

On the positive side, producers have access to mountains of information and forecasts. 

There is a plethora of publications, meetings, and information available to producers. But how does a producer make a decision. Perhaps the first step is knowing what information is useful in a sea of data and recommendations. And how to determine how accurate or useful information is? Let’s take deciding on the 2023 wheat crop. You would normally start thinking about this long before you actually plant.

• How many acres of wheat do you want to plant? You would consider factors such as the expected price of the wheat and maybe start thinking about locking in a price. What is the price of wheat relative to other crops you grow? Am you just growing it for grain, for pasture, or both. This is only the start.

• The next question is selecting the ground for the 2023 wheat crop. You would consider the following based on the first bullet point: dryland or irrigated; soil conditions (chemical and physical properties); herbicide carryover considerations; has it been fallowed or does it have a summer crop; potential weed problems, etc. Something like low pH may need to be addressed as well as volunteer wheat.

• Next you have to select a variety or varieties suited to conditions, determine a realistic yield goal, determine soil nutrient status and your fertilizer needs, planting rate to determine amount of seed needed. And address any weed problems or tillage needs along with fertilizer application and incorporation.

• It would also be valuable to evaluate the top soil and subsoil moisture status along with the temperature and precipitation forecast from fall through early spring. With no offense intended to anyone, it’s not the Old Farmer’s Almanac but more likely the Climate Prediction Center.  

This is just a condensed list that goes into something like planting wheat. All the decisions could fill at least half a page in the newspaper.  Hopefully, this provides a decent picture of how difficult this can be. And even the best, most carefully planned operation is still at the mercy of Mother Nature.

Dr. Victor L. Martin is the agriculture instructor/coordinator for Barton Community College. He can be reached at 620-792-9207, ext. 207, or