Tuesday, January 21, 2014

It's Ok Allan

Last week at the Certified Crop Advisor Annual Conference Allan McCallum, who is a highly respected consultant from Elgin County, was telling me how he is becoming more and more like a grumpy old farmer.  As he put it, he keeps trying all the latest and greatest concepts to improve profitability in corn and soybean production on his own farms and with clients.  At the end of the day, what does he learn?  That most of the latest and greatest concepts do not work as advertised and he would be further ahead to not pay attention any more to the latest and greatest. 

What makes this observation relevant is this is the time of year when we are bombarded with the latest and greatest ideas from conferences and meetings. 
As an example, Twitter was buzzing last week at the Soysmart conference about manipulating soybeans to put out more pods per plant and more seeds per pod.  Treat the crop with a systems approach and watch the bushels flow.
I don't like to burst the bubble, but Horst Bohner our provincial soybean specialist has been doing this for several years now.  He has conclusively demonstrated the number one method to increasing soybean yields.  Allan and I have both tried it and we agree with Horst.  The number one ingredient to higher soybean yields is to plant full season soybean varieties early.  Period.  Having the ability to irrigate soybeans in August would work even better, but that is not an option for many Ontario producers.  Anything else is a distant second.  We know conclusively that soybeans do not respond consistently to row width, population, tillage, emergence, fungicide or foliar feeding.  Spending lots of money on inputs to improve soybean yields does not work.  That makes for a very brief system.
I have a customer that can grow 80 bu per acre soybeans.  He has done it consistently and could go on the circuit and become the "Maharishi of Soybeans".  His ethics stop him because he also knows he can't grow 80 bu just because he is smart.  The production recipe is tied to the deed on the farm and the recipe is a complete failure when exported off that same farm.  The truth hurts.
What is a frustrated soybean producer to do?  Focus in the basics of soil structure, organic matter retention, crop rotation, base fertility, inoculants, seed treatments and variety selection.  Boring as heck, but infinitely more profitable.

One other hot topic making the rounds is variable rate corn planters GPS referenced to change seed drop on the go.  A cheap version of variable rate is already on the market.  New monitors allow you to program two population settings and the operator has to remember to switch populations manually as the planter moves across the field.
Several questions still need to be answered.
What is the right population for the hybrid in the planter?
What is the right population for that hybrid on the soil type in that spot on the field?
What are the yield limiting factors for that spot in the field?
What actually is the yield potential for that spot in the field?
Most seed companies do their best to give guidance to population response by hybrid which begins to answer the first question.  But that answer will be heavily influenced by the answers to the remaining questions which are only educated guesses for most producers and agronomists. 
Bob Neilson at Purdue has looked at this on field scale population trials in Indiana.  The results of this are no surprise to me.  When we take population recommendations by hybrid to the field and subject them to statistical analysis, the recommendations are not very reliable.  The take home message is do not get caught in the hype that machinery and seed companies have this all figured out.  Once again that makes for a boring presentation and not many "tweets".

You can read the results of the Purdue study at

Coming back to Allan I know he will continue to experiment.   Just don't try selling him any more latest and greatest.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for your Post Russ. It is refreshing to read! But you are right. It is boring doing the same thing over and over. Looking backwards change is always evident, but it has taken over 10 years to move corn populations 10% upwards.