Farmers have one thing on their minds as the temperatures warm: planting. As with every year, 2022 is already delivering challenges for farmers, including supply chain issues, unstable markets and dynamic weather. But, with a well-thought-out plan, proper planning and your expert guidance, your customers can withstand the ups and downs of the planting season. Here are some steps you can take to get them field-ready.
Review the plan
Now is a good time to do a final check of the production plan with your growers. If fluctuating commodity prices, product availability or other factors have shifted their cropping strategy, it’s critical to discuss how those changes affect in-season management. Here are some specific topics to guide your pre-season discussions.
Reassess crop placement
Review the seed products your farmers have chosen to plant this season and map out their field placement to set the crop up for success. For example, if a specific hybrid is best-suited for well-drained soils, make sure it’s not going into a low-lying field with a history of standing water. Or, if a hybrid performs better at low planting populations, it may be a good fit for less productive acres. Helping farmers map out the ideal placement for each seed product puts them in a good position to maximize crop yield and profitability potential.
Nail down planting populations
In addition to finding the right fields for seed, farmers need to establish the prime planting population for each product based on several variables, including tillage method, hybrid response to population, planting date and yield goals. Farmers should plan to evaluate their planting populations on a field-by-field basis versus applying a blanket planting rate. In general, modern hybrids are bred for more aggressive planting populations, and underplanting may result in lost yield potential.
Revisit in-season management strategies
After you’ve discussed placement and population rates, dive into in-season management with your growers. With input prices skyrocketing this season, getting prescriptive with fertilizer and crop protection decisions is wise. Help farmers allocate their limited budgets where their return on investment potential is the highest. That may mean reducing nitrogen applications in less productive fields and reallocating it to more productive acres. Prioritizing fungicides on hybrids with a known positive response and in fields with a history of high disease pressure can also help stretch input dollars further.
Map out a solid fertility strategy
Fertility costs are always one of a farmer’s largest operational expenses. This year, that expense could be significantly more than what it’s been in recent seasons. Farmers will be making tough decisions regarding their fertility plans and may turn to you for recommendations. Review recent soil sampling tests with your customers to understand the nutrient levels in the soil. For some nutrients, including phosphorus and potassium, it may be possible to skip a year of application and focus those dollars on nitrogen instead. Help farmers find ways to effectively manage rising fertilizer costs without impacting yield potential.
Farmers have likely had their planters stored for a year, so now is an excellent time to dust off equipment and get it ready for the field. It may be helpful to develop a planting equipment checklist for your farmers, so they can ensure they’ve done the proper diagnostics before the season starts. Some common prep includes:
- Making sure planter attachments and parts, including in-furrow fertilizer equipment, meters and insecticide boxes, are clean and functioning properly
- Double-checking row cleaner settings to optimize residue removal without adversely impacting planting depth
- Adjusting meters, planter units, seed opener disks, seed tubes and seed firmers to optimize seed placement
- Looking for worn parts that may need replacing or maintenance, such as chains, sprockets and tires
- Doing a safety check to make sure all lights and signals are functioning
- Performing software updates on equipment and other electronics
Calibrate sprayers and recommend nozzles
Sprayer calibration is an important step that many growers may bypass in their haste to get to the field, but it’s critical to optimize early-season weed control. Instead of just visually examining spray output, growers should collect samples to ensure that each nozzle delivers similar volumes. This simple step can help identify worn parts that may need replacing and helps ensure consistent spray coverage across the field.
You should also remind farmers to stock up on the nozzles they need for herbicide applications. It’s not always clear which nozzle works best for every situation, so help farmers make those decisions based upon the weed pressure in their fields, their application preferences and the products they plan to apply. A low-cost investment in the proper nozzle for each application can make a big difference in weed control efficacy.
Don’t overlook early-season weed control
Starting the seed off strong delivers season-long crop benefits. In fact, agronomists estimate that 50-60% of yield potential is determined at planting. Early-season weed control is critical to reducing competition for water and nutrients and is one way to support early-season plant vigor. But, as you know, balancing planting with weed control can be difficult with weather and logistical issues creating short windows of time to get work done. Remind farmers to prioritize preemergence weed control, and help them develop a strategy that maximizes residual control until the plant canopies. A solid preemergence herbicide program can take pressure off of postemergence applications, which will be key this season as farmers may have more limited options for postemergence herbicides.
Encourage meticulous record-keeping
Accurate record-keeping is vital for in-season management and historical documentation. Help your farmers identify practical ways to keep track of what they’ve done in season. Documenting planting date, planting population, seed varieties planted and spray applications can help inform future decisions. The information is also helpful to have in case any in-season issues arise. A variety of field management software can help capture this data for safe-keeping and easy retrieval.
Planting into favorable soils, proper seed placement, early-season weed management and crop protection must be top-of-mind for farmers as they start the season. Help set them up for season-long success by reviewing plans and reminding them of good planting practices, so they can take advantage of every opportunity to optimize yield potential.
Visit the GROWERS blog for more agronomic resources to help farmers navigate in-season challenges.