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Make next year better by learning from this year’s missteps

If someone asked you, could you tell him which of your fields this year were most affected by bean leaf beetle? Or which one experienced carryover damage from herbicides? What about the small section that had corn overshadowed by waterhemp? If your answer is “no”, you’ll want to keep a detailed record this growing season so as not to repeat the same mistakes next time.

According to Todd Wentzel, seed adviser at Syngenta, knowing a field is critical for getting a good start. What is its fertility level, drainage, typical moisture level, soil type, and cation exchange capacity?

Because you know your field better than anyone else, providing your seed dealer with these important details can help him to get you the right product for each of your fields. Taking accurate notes will help you to not only keep track of each of your fields’ specifics but also get the most for your money.

Conducting soil tests – and keeping track of the results – may give you needed information to make changes to your fertility program. You could be sacrificing yield unintentionally if fertility is poor.

Besides soil fertility, it is helpful to know your soil’s moisture levels and drainage when making decisions regarding seed. Some varieties prefer dry soils, while others perform better in wetter conditions.

“Hybrid or variety is probably the No. 1 decision farmers make that can make the biggest difference,” explains Farm Journal Field Agronomist Ken Ferrie. “It’s not just picking the right hybrid—it’s the right farm, right soil type.”

“We need to know how hybrids will behave,” he continues. “There are things you can look at in the characteristics of a hybrid to minimize the guessing.”

Starting this season, keep a record of the performance of each variety or hybrid on each of your fields. If a particular variety has lower performance than expected, determine the reason and choose a product for the following year that will perform better under the circumstances of that specific field.

“Bring notes to your conversation with seed, fertilizer and chemical providers to place products where they will generate the greatest profit,” recommends Mark Querna, Minnesota FIRST (Farmer’s Independent Research of Seed Technologies) manager. “Set expectations for what minimum profit you want for each field.”

The records you keep with respect to field scouting will also help you with every dimension of input selection. Track weed pressure and insects to plan out next year’s choices, such as a traited variety, soil-applied insecticide, or reducing both if you experience a low threshold.

“Look for profitable ways to rotate herbicides and pest management practices [to avoid spreading more resistance],” Querna continues. “Walk fields and see if programs work on your farm.”

Next, make sure to record the presence of weeds: their locations, issues with respect to resistance, and any possibilities of changing your chemical program. Use this information to guide your purchase decisions with respect to traited products and herbicides.

Fungus and disease can be soil-borne or overwinter in residue. Write down the location, its residue cover and tillage practice, and if such fungus or disease can be managed through application of a fungicide. However, with soybeans and corn, your greatest impact might be had through proper product selection.

“Know the weakness of your hybrid and then manage for that weakness,” Ferrie suggests. “For example, you may select a hybrid for its ear and leaf type but still need to scout if it has poor gray leaf spot scores. Or if it doesn’t have a strong package against Goss’s Wilt, you have to rethink its placement.”

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