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Seven steps to minimize crop production expenses

Mahlon Peterson Published on 17 August 2012

Farmers across the country are always looking for ways to minimize crop input costs whether they grow corn, soybeans, small grains, alfalfa, clover or specialty crops due to the high costs of fertilizer, seed, fuel and land rental rates.

We all know that supply and demand combined with a weak dollar and high fuel and fertilizer prices brought about these changes which presented real issues for producers in 2012 and will into the future as well.

Here’s what I recommend for farmers to keep in mind in the future to help minimize production expenses:

1. Always make sure you have up-to-date soil test results to assist with your decisions. Five-year-old soil test results have little value to you as you make cropping decisions today. Some fields may have higher phosphorus and potassium levels that are better suited for certain cropping systems thereby lowering input costs.

2. Make liming applications a priority. If you grow legume crops in your crop rotation, it is essential that your pH levels are adequate. Research also shows us that every plant has a different preferred pH range. If input dollars are limited, liming needs to take a priority as it did not go up in price relative to fertilizer.

3. Grow the best crop on every field. We all know that fields were not created or treated equally on your farm. Today’s higher input costs for corn require consistent yields close to 150 bushels per acre just to break even. Chances are that you have fields that have never been that good consistently. Perhaps lower-yielding fields could be where you grow crops with lower input costs such as alfalfa, small grains or soybeans.

4. Take your allowable manure credits on all fields. In tight economic times whether your animals produce it or you purchase or barter manure from others is more valuable than ever. Twenty tons of solid dairy manure will provide 60 pounds of nitrogen, 60 pounds of phosphorus and 140 pounds of potassium for the crops you plant, which more than meets the needs of a corn crop. Manure (dairy or beef) applied at five to six tons per acre is an excellent top dress for alfalfa and you’ll purchase less commercial fertilizer on those fields.

5. Take full advantage of nitrogen credits on all fields. Shorter crop rotations really benefit from nitrogen credits. Even a poor alfalfa stand gives you a 100 pound per acre nitrogen credit (160 pounds per acre for good to excellent stands) the first year and a 50 pound credit in year two. Manure credits plus nitrogen credits more than meet the needs of a corn crop and save considerable money in today’s economy.

6. Apply no more nutrients than the crop needs. In easier times we sometimes get a bit reckless when applying nutrients to crops. We only need to meet the crop’s nutrient demands and not build higher levels of soil phosphorus and potassium. That’s bad for your pocketbook, your field and our environment. This is true for nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. Today’s economic environment makes it critical that we apply less N, P and K to most fields.

7. Consider removing excess nutrients from your field’s bank. Soil test results often show that we have excess amounts of P and K in our soils. It took a long time to build excesses and one year’s withdrawals probably will not hurt your crop or your bottom line.

I encourage all of you to think about these seven steps that can help you minimize crop production expenses, meet the crop needs and protect our environment.  FG

Mahlon Peterson
Agricultural Agent
University of Wisconsin Extension, Eau Claire County

—From Midwest Forage Association newsletter, June, 2012