Row By Row / March 2024

Using an Early Spring to Capture More Yield This Fall

We recently caught up with Brian Hefty, agronomist, farmer and co-host of Ag PhD, to get his thoughts and recommendations on spring strategies that can pay off in big ways at harvest. We last spoke with Brian in 2021, and a lot has changed in three years, especially following widespread drought.

What to cut, and what to keep

As commodity prices trend lower, many farmers are questioning their crop inputs. Brian recalls, “The best piece of advice my dad gave me coming out of the 1980s was, ‘Make sure you don’t cut stuff that’s making you money. Don’t make cuts just to make cuts — only cut things that aren’t paying anymore.’”

This means doing your homework when it comes to soil sampling, fertilizer strategy, crop protection and seeding strategy. And he has plenty of tips and insights to help.

Soil testing to optimize your fertility program

For a lot of farmers, nitrogen is the No. 1 fertilizer expense. While yields go up, so do costs. But Brian says checking the existing nitrogen levels in your acres can really pay off.

“If you aren’t checking the soil, you don’t know what you have left from last year and don’t know what you have for organic matter,” he says.

Specifically, most areas of the U.S. coming out of a three-and-a-half-year drought often result in more nitrogen. At Hefty Farms in South Dakota, Brian notes they had 100 pounds of carry-over nitrogen this year. “After drought years, it’s been pretty consistent that there’s more nitrogen,” he says. “It’s worth pulling some tests.”

Soil temps and early planting

Spring has sprung early in 2024, leaving many farmers questioning whether they should plant early. According to Brian, following standard practices may not be the best strategy. “If you wait for a soil temp. of 50 degrees or more, you might not be planting in the best soil possible,” he says.

Corn will germinate in temperatures less than 50 degrees, and the temperature can vary throughout the day. He recommends testing a couple times per day to get an idea of the range your fields are in. “We encourage people to not worry so much about the temperature — worry about the seed and whether it has the right vigor.”

Pre-emerge herbicide application

Because the weather is warmer than normal, weeds could also start earlier than normal. Farmers may fight more — and bigger — weeds if they wait to spray post-emerge.

Brian says, “Get pre-emerge herbicide applied early. Get it out of the way so when planting comes, you can focus on planting.” He also points out that fields don’t have to be sprayed in the middle of the day, and farmers can cover a ton of acres in a short amount of time when the conditions are right.

Variable-rate seeding

One thing Brian says a lot of farmers have thought about but not necessarily put into place, is variable-rate seeding for both corn and soybeans.

With corn, it’s best to cut the seeding rate where the soil isn’t as good due to lower fertility and, consequently, lower yield potential.

But when it comes to soybeans, it’s the exact opposite. He says, “You want to increase your seeding rate in those areas. Beans grow taller, and there’s better weed control, better chance for yield, and it helps offset iron deficiency chlorosis, which is a big issue in the middle part of the U.S. The more you plant, the more of that you kick out.”

Cut your population in the best ground, so soybeans won’t grow as tall and have the chance for lodging. This can decrease white mold and other disease problems.

Whether it’s early soil testing or variable-rate seeding, Brian always suggests that farmers try new things. “I’m not saying everything will pan out perfectly, but you have to start experimenting if you’re going to evolve.”

We couldn’t agree more.

Ag PhD Research and Drago

Ag PhD works to uncover insights from the field that can help farmers form strategies and make decisions to improve their bottom lines. Having accurate data is paramount, which is why the Ag PhD research team chooses to run a Drago GT corn head to collect hybrid data. With differing hybrids, soil types, moistures and weather, having the consistency of greater yield capture helps remove user error to improve every data set — and every harvest.

We’re proud to collaborate with partners like Ag PhD who know the work it takes to get data-driven results. When we see the value come through in farmer ROI and industry-wide innovation, it’s worth it to work with the best of the best.