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Lessons Learned: Making Fertilizer Dollars Count

By Hoyt Choate

Crop 41 is coming up and I’ve learned a few things over the years. Some small lessons like: never start on the highway and never ever leave seed wheat in the drill over the winter. And big lessons like: measure first, cut once. My goal every year is to produce a better crop than the year before. So, I handle my seed with more care than ever and I place it in furrow as uniformly as possible. I’ve even gone as far as reducing planting speed, believe it or not. Every planting season I try to accomplish one new thing well.

For the past few years, I have been learning about soil fertility. I’ve discovered expertise on the web and through my network of friends, business partners and acquaintances. Yield monitor data, coupled with my past experiences confirm my suspicions on how variable the fields in Western Tennessee are. This year I plan to apply what I have learned about field fertility and plant nutrition to the rest of the farm.

The first thing I learned is to measure first, funny how that applies to everything we do. I learned the best way to measure the nutrient content of my fields is to implement a grid sampling program. This year I sampled every field on my farm on no greater than a 2 ½ acre interval.

The samples were shipped to a lab where state of the art equipment measures the nutrient content of the sample. Then, the software I use pinpoints the GPS location of the samples and applies the lab results so I can look at my field maps and see the highs and the lows across the field by each element I test for.

I needed to spread lime. After all, I am on a 3 year cycle. However, I didn’t know precisely how much lime to spread or where to spread it. Now I do. I used Variable Rate Application equipment and applied only what I needed, where I needed it. In years past, I would have spread 2 tons per acre. This year I cut my lime bill in half, because most of my farm had an acceptable pH.

I feel good about my fertilizer management program. It is obvious where I had low yield; my fertility content was low. Now, armed with a prescription and the equipment to variable rate apply my fertilizer, I’m spreading fertilizer to achieve a specific yield goal. I’m in control and optimizing the fertilizer dollars I spread in the field. I know those dollars are where they need to be to produce my yield goal.

Once I got the hang of sampling, it’s been fairly easy. I gained confidence and found I could sample my fields at the rate of about 100 acres per hour. Sometimes my son and I sample in the morning, sometimes in the evening, or anytime we have a few hours to spare. The acres add up fast. I don’t focus on the size of the grid, now I understand it’s not the size of the grid but how it represents the field that matters. The grid is just a guide.

I spend more money on fertilizer than any other input on the farm. It’s my goal to become efficient with those fertilizer dollars and apply them with purpose to my fields. I believe when this year is done, I will have saved money and produced more bushels. Wow! It’s as simple as measure first, cut once. It just makes sense.

2016-10-12T10:31:13+00:00 May 15th, 2015|What's New|0 Comments