Yield does not tell the whole story
October 23, 2015
Harvest is in full swing and the end is in sight for some. It appears that we have been blessed again with another year of nearly ideal growing conditions as well as great harvest weather. Overall, most of the farmers that I have spoken with are very happy with yields.
It is impressive what the advances in science and technology have done for producers in just the past 10 years to improve quality and yield. For example, seed companies have created seed that is drought tolerant and resistant to certain pests. Fertilizer comes with controlled release so it does not leach or wash away. Tractors and combines can essentially drive themselves. Planters have gotten so advanced that they can plant variable rate, uniform depth across uneven surfaces, and turn on and off to avoid overlapping rows all at over ten mph. When you couple this technology with conditions like we had this year, the yields can be quite remarkable.
Technology will only get you so far though, it is how you use it that will determine how successful you will be. You could have the newest, fanciest tractor and planter with all of the bells and whistles, but if you plant the cheapest seed you can buy and use a low rate of fertilizer to save money, chances are you are not going to be too impressed with your yields at harvest time. You need to manage and incorporate this technology into every aspect of your operation. This takes planning.
As your harvest wraps up, you need to be compiling your 2015 expenses and yields, by crop and by field so you can see what worked this year and what didn't. Once this is done, you need to switch focus to your 2016 plan and budget. If your combine gives you yield maps, don't just look at them and wish there was more green and less red, do something about it. Use this data along with your soil sampling to determine next year's fertility needs. Work with your agronomist on variable rate prescriptions as well as seed and population selection. This technology is available and has already proven that it reduces cost and increases efficiency.
As farming has gradually transformed into the Walmart model of high volume, low margin, you need to produce more bushels at a cheaper price to be competitive in today's marketplace. Technology will help with this but it is more important than ever to manage it better.
To do this, you need to know and work on decreasing your cost of production. According to SD Center for Farm/Ranch Management 2014 data, the average cost to produce a bushel of corn on rented land was $3.51 which netted a return of $14.67 per acre. The top 20% of producers produced the same bushel of corn for $2.68 which netted them a return of $141.91 per acre. This shows that some have figured this concept out.
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At the South Dakota Center for Farm/Ranch Management we help producers to track their data to the individual field level. This allows for comparison between different fields, prior years, and state averages. This data helps you evaluate what is working as well as areas that need improvement. If you feel you could benefit from a program like this, we can be contacted at 995-7196 or firstname.lastname@example.org.