Growing successful crops includes the right equipment, good soil health and seed selection.
by Colleen Halpenny
With spring planting just around the corner, now is the time to invest in the steps to get your crops off to their best potential start.
We have connected with producers, experts, and advisors to bring you top reminders and tips to ensure your 2022 season garners top results.
There’s a sign outside of Laurentian Valley Grains shop in Pembroke that reads, ‘If you don’t make time for machinery maintenance, it will make it for you!’
“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Keeping your unit running smoothly and cutting out those breakdown times; everyone knows how valuable that extra hour before the rain hits can be,” comments Darcy Smith, owner of Laurentian Valley Grains.
Chad Roney, service manager for Roberts Farm Equipment in Chesley, reminds producers that “you know what you want to do, how many acres you’re putting in, and what timeframe you need to achieve it. Optimal soil preparation and conditioning is only achieved with machinery that’s up to the task.”
Much emphasis is always put on the planter efficiency, too, Roney says. “But, you also need to know that your discs and cultivators are running level, not only side-to-side but front-to-back, your tractor’s GPS is properly calibrated, and that the equipment you use to get seed and fertilizer to the fields is road-ready and capable of getting you filled and back on the move.”
Make good use of any downtime by running over equipment long before you need it in the field. Roney says this will give you confidence that every part is running properly.
“Early assessment will give you enough time to have replacement parts sourced and delivered,” he suggests.
“A typical part that may have previously always been in stock could be in short supply.
“No one wants to see you with equipment in park. Start building your on-farm inventory for those parts which wear easily. Driving to the dealership is a lot less effective than driving the fields.”
Know your soil fertility
Jamie Grier, owner of Seed Solutions in Lansdowne, cautions that even though inputs are on everyone’s mind, now’s not the time to reduce soil fertility. “Keep in mind that there are many more years to come; don’t do something short-term which negatively impacts your yields further down the road. Take the time to get updated soil tests and know exactly where nutrient levels stand and then best strategize where additional top-ups are needed.”
How does your soil measure up? Soil test results can easily be compared to the OMAFRA fertilizer recommendations. These listings are calibrated to relate the extractable nutrient with the amount of fertilizer required to achieve optimum crop yields.
“For those producers with livestock as the end-use of crops, ask for manure sampling. Compare how your soil ranks with what the animals are outputting. What are the gaps and how can your plan capture them?” comments Clare Kinlin, crop inputs sales manager for MacEwen Agricentre, which has various locations in eastern Ontario. Kinlin is also a Certified Crop Advisor. “Placing the right product on the right acre is achieved by understanding your soils, your end-use goals, seed varieties available and making that ideal match.”
Ryan Brophy, managing director at V6 Agronomy in Rouleau, Sask., stresses that “we have phosphate and nitrogen fertilizers that are almost double the cost based on global market volatility. Now is the time to stop feeding fence rows and ditches during applications.
“This is the year to look at using banding or adding with seed placement compared to broadcast fertilizing. Just look at the prolific weed presence in ditches and fence rows. Imagine the nutrients that have been tossed there because we weren’t being protective of our applications.
“It’s an exciting time to focus on nutrient use efficiency. Get innovative in how you apply and work nutrients into the soil. You could consider using your corn planter and sideband fertilizer for beans rather than broadcasting.
“When looking at nitrogen use efficiency, consider splitting nitrogen rates, especially for corn crops based on what your soil nitrate levels test at. Lay down what you need for good establishment, then go in at V6 stage to evaluate and consider a second pass. You’ll see increases in efficacy and overall cost savings,” he says.
Incorporation of a chemical or biological stabilizer will assist you in getting the most out of your additional fertilizer investments, comments Paul Hermans, area agronomist, eastern Ontario, with Corteva Agriscience.
Picking the right seed
When selecting seeds, Kinlin suggests producers “talk with your crop advisor to come up with best seed strategies, for not only your farm but for each field.”
Working alongside a well-educated seed supplier, map out each field with their specific variety and fertilizer strategy. “Working with the right people to make the right decisions puts the best intentions on your side,” Grier acknowledges. “Remember that Mother Nature has the final say. Eliminating as many variables as possible before you hit the fields is key for a smooth seeding season.”
Hermans also suggests taking the time to review previous years and their yields. “Look to past seasons to evaluate what did and didn’t work; use your real on-farm results to guide your decisions.”
He suggests small adjustments like fine-tuning seeding population rates and utilizing small batches of 10 or 20 acres to try something new while aiming for increased return on investments and better yields.
Brophy notes that farmers can be challenged due to limited land and limited time to plan their crops, and so are consistent with crop types used year after year. “Lean on those industry experts, your crop advisors and suppliers. They have the time to learn all the new products and options available to you.”
Appropriate depth, rates & contact
Looking back on your 2021 season, did crops emerge uniformly and on time? Kinlin notes that stand emergence is the best indicator of a successful planting depth.
Roney also suggests producers be mindful that, “you want to work your soil at least to that depth. Your planter or drills aren’t to blame if you’ve placed the seed into a hard pack that hasn’t been worked.”
Hermans notes that for corn to have a successful, even emergence, producers should aim for a deeper seeding. “We’ve seen from research that putting corn deeper has advantages in the fall on overall ear weight and length while ensuring access to moisture during those early rooting stages.”
Keeping your planter running smoothly through to those deeper levels means paying attention to the removal of crop residue from last year. “Map out your plan for each field, so you know where your time is best spent preparing,” he advises. “We’re all aiming to get that extra bushel from each acre; keeping weeds inline from the start helps your new seeds have the best opportunity to thrive.”
“Checking your depth controls, cleaners, and opener plates, before and after each field you plant, is just a small example of the little things that can keep your day running as planned, or completely hold you up if you ignore them,” reminds Roney.
Producers are also taking better advantage of variable rate seeding to maximize field potential and minimize overall input costs. Hermans says taking advantage of variable rate seeding has best bottom line impacts when proper attention is paid to mapping out fields. “Look to your yield history, soil type, topography, landscape, slope and drainage. A field which is sandy and shallow at one end, while deep and moist at the other, can benefit greatly from variable seeding.”
However, the job isn’t done once the seed is put in the ground. “Take the time to improve uniform seed to soil contact. Your stand emergence and uniformity across the field will be extremely noticeable,” says Kinlin.
Mitigating increased costs
“Costs are talked about maybe more than the weather these days,” says Smith. “Being mindful of those, we’ll make some potential adjustments while still being protective of overall yields.”
Grier suggests that those who are looking to contract some of their crops do so now. “With prices staying high, right now is a great time to lock in some profit, while not getting over-contracted.”
“The best formula to optimize your seeding strategy is to set your yield goals and estimate selling price compared to your input costs,” comments Hermans.
“What I’m hearing from producers, is that while inputs are up, so is yield value. A small amount of extra yield can make a big difference to your bottom line. What can you do now to get that extra bushel for marginal costs?” Kinlin queries.
“When you book in your contracts, you’re making not only the choice on what it trades at but what your margin cost for your input will be.”
Kinlin also always advises producers to be patient. “You don’t have to be the first out to be the first done. It’s not a race. Doing a proper job is the best use of your time. Don’t jeopardize your seeds being too eager on the first sunny day.”
The bottom line
Remember to follow the four Rs: Right Source, Right Rate, Right Time, Right Zone. “When you do all you can to lay out the best plan, the rest is up to Mother Nature,” says Brophy.
“The most successful people I know are the ones who have a true handle on cost of production, and pay attention to the markets,” says Grier. “They know where they need to sell to be profitable and spread the risk. Spend the time with your books and review your averages and understand where you will be comfortable in terms of profit margins.”
“We’re all in the same boat, we’re all going to head to the fields and do it all over again,” says Smith.
“It’s the way of the farmer. Ever the eternal optimist that we can have a more successful year than previous. This will be the year of tug and pull to not lose yields, but we’re ready to take on the challenge.” BF