In preparation for this year’s Wisconsin Corn•Soy Expo on February 4 and 5, 2016, Pam Jahnke of the Farm Report interviewed UW Extension Soy Specialist Dr. Shawn Conley about a major Expo event and his thoughts on the 2016 growing season. You can listen to the entire eleven and a half minute interview below.
1. Grower Attitudes Heading into 2016
Dr. Conley recently completed his annual agronomy update where he met with many growers. His key takeaway was that growers are concerned, especially about prices. Thanks to the robust harvests of 2015, there’s a lot of corn in the bins awaiting sale, which lowers the price.
Dr. Conley understands these concerns and reminds growers there are opportunities for lots of good decisions to be made heading into the 2016 growing season. While growers may wish to reduce some inputs, he cautions about reducing so much that you “cut yourself out of profits.”
2. Corn•Soy Expo: Your Chance to Participate in an Important Yield Gap Survey
Dr. Conley notes Wisconsin growers are facing a yield gap of up to fifty bushels an acre over the genetic potential of seed. While weather plays a part in the gap, other factors, such as farming practices, soils and the type of genetic seed used also play a major role.
At this year’s Corn•Soy Expo, Dr. Conley hopes growers will bring and share confidentially with him their production field records from 2014 and 2015—and the more information, the better. He will gather survey data in small groups of 30 or so growers on Thursday, and the information you share with him will be kept secure with him alone. He will then aggregate this data anonymously to see what trends emerge. Dr. Conley hopes this study will reveal concrete steps to improve ROI as well as show the costs and benefits of farming practices and seed choices.
3. What Will This Year’s El Niño Mean for Growers?
The long-term data collected over the last 40 year suggest reduced soy production in the year following an El Niño winter. This could be due to the weather being too wet, too dry and too hot to create ideal growing conditions. Dr. Conley suggests growers consider these challenges carefully before investing in inputs as insurance. He advises growers to run the numbers to make sure investments “fit your bottom line.”
4. Seed Genetics Are the Biggest Driver of Yields
Dr. Conley notes that there was a 17 to 34% yield swing from the lowest yielding seed to the highest. Without question, genetics are the big driver of yield. He urges growers to look at the data on coolbean.info (especially the starred varieties) and judge for themselves. Dr. Conley observes that even if a high-producing seed variety costs $3 more per acre, the data show it’s more than worth it in returned yield.
5. What to Consider Before You Fertilize
Dr. Conley strongly recommends growers do a good job of soil sampling to understand their base nutrient levels, particularly to “dial in on” potassium (K) levels. Studies at UW-Madison show where soils are low in both potassium and phosphorus, you get a much greater response with added K. Further, phosphorus levels are generally good in Wisconsin—so “don’t skimp on K.”
6. No-cost Practices That Boost Yields
A. Plant before May 1: Dr. Conley admits talking of “planting days” is as old as Agronomy 101 but it still matters. Research shows anywhere from .2-.6 bushels per acre per day yield lost past May 1. That’s a loss of free yield.
Waiting until May 10 costs you 4 bushels per acre. Linger past May 20 and you’re missing out on 8 bushels per acre.
Granted, weather plays a role here, too, and May is our wettest month. Being prepared to get into the field early during in the growing season quickly pays big dividends that don’t cost you an extra dime.
B. Use Pre-Emergent Herbicides: Dr. Conley notes that last year saw an explosion of glyphosate-resistant weeds. It’s much easier, and cost-effective, to prevent these weeds from gaining traction than to battle them after they emerge, especially if wet weather keeps you out of the field. In his view, the return from early use of pre-emergent herbicides far outweighs their cost.
C: The Jury’s Still Out on Inoculants: Calling them “the scourge of my existence,” Dr. Conley knows well that inoculants are a challenging and complex a topic. Although studied extensively for decades, there is no clear path yet. In terms of ROI, though, studies suggest you have a “good chance” of breaking even. So “if you want to use them, do it. And if you don’t, don’t.”
Dr. Conley looks forward to seeing and meeting growers (and getting the data from their 2014/2015 production field records for his yield gap study) at the the 2016 Wisconsin Corn•Soy Expo on February 4 and 5, 2016 at the Kalahari Resort in the Wisconsin Dells.
Go here to register your spot today.