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Seeding rate, weed control top crop savings tips list
Finding ways to save a bit on production costs will be key with low prices forecast for 2005
BY PETER RESCHKE Ontario Farmer staff
With crop returns expected to be uninspiring at best this year, the emphasis for many producers has shifted to cost control.
To explore some areas where cost savings may be possible this year, Ontario Farmer asked a group of crop advisors about the best places to spend and the places to skimp. Here's what they had to say:
One of the easiest places to save a few dollars is in the soybean seed box, says Cargill consulting agronomist Pat Lynch. Lynch says he's been surprised to learn how many producers still drill soys in narrow rows. "About 75 per cent of our clients are still planting in seven-inch rows," he says.
That means these growers can realize substantial savings just by going to a 14 or 15 inch system. "Back in the good old days of bin-run seed it didn't matter so much if we planted 20 per cent more seed," he says. "Now, with Roundup Ready and IP seed, that cost is very important."
And don't worry that the seed savings will be eaten up by lower yields. OMAF soybean lead Horst Bohner says studies from Ontario and the northern U.S. Corn Belt have shown that yield differences between seven-inch and 14 or 15-inch rows are "minimal." In fact, one large-scale study done in Wisconsin found there was actually a slight yield advantage for the wider rows, he adds.
Some growers are also concerned that the wider rows will mean slower canopy closure and higher weed control costs. That problem "is not as big an issue as some people think," Lynch says. "It's a matter of 48 to 72 hours more."
And even if you're not ready to change to a different row width, Ottawa-area crop consultant Paul Sullivan says farmers can safely cutback on soybean seed if planting conditions are good. "I think in those situations we can go to the lower end of the suggested range," he says.
Although this type of soil amendment has lost some popularity because of negative publicity about its content, Lambton County crop consultant and Pioneer seed dealer Gabrielle Ferguson believes biosolids are still a good way to get some cheap fertilizer.
She says municipalities are very anxious to dispose of their sewage sludge and that is creating some attractive opportunities for farmers. "They'll soil test, field map and apply it for you. They'll give you the product for free and they may even pay you to work it in."
"They appear to be more than willing to make you happy in terms of timing of application," she adds.
Ferguson isn't too concerned about heavy metals or diseases that may be spread in the sludge. "That area is inundated with legislation," she says, "so the risks are minimal. I think it's no more risky than other manure sources."
On the upside, biosolids are an economic form of fertilizer. Depending on the type of sludge you obtain, you could get all your corn nitrogen for free or at least look after P and K needs for a few years.
Biosolids come in liquid, de-watered or palletized form. The liquid type is very high in ammonia, so it will provide a lot of nitrogen for a crop like corn, Ferguson says. But because of its high percentage of water, transportation costs will make it only feasible for farms that are close to the source of the sludge.
The de-watered sludge has less ammonia and therefore about the same nitrogen value as a crop of plow down red clover, Ferguson says. The palletized form is much easier to handle, there's no odour but also very little nitrogen. "But you're still getting P and K," Ferguson says.
She says rates of biosolids currently applied should be enough to keep your crops well-supplied with phosphorus for two to five years, depending on the original soil test, and with potash for one to two seasons.
This is one area where everyone seems to have a suggestion. Ferguson believes growers can save money by matching some older, cheaper technology with the new products.
Products like atrazine, at between a half and one pound, and 2,4-D, at between .25 and .4 litres, are good herbicide boosters that can be used in combination with other chemistry to economically extend the length of control or increase the number of weeds being controlled.
The key to saving money on herbicides is knowing where to best allocate your dollars, says Sullivan. Simply by spraying early, when weeds are small, growers can often get by with a lower rate. Then, "if nothing else comes up later", you don't have to go back.
He says growers in his area have had good success with Boundary, calling it "a good, economical program." Distinct is another good product for corn growers, if the weed spectrum is right. "You can take out a lot of weeds with not a lot of Distinct."
Glyphosate is another area where savings are possible, Ferguson says. In the past, when a litre didn't do the trick, growers simply increased the rate.
A more economical option is to stick with the litre of glyphosate but add a lower cost herbicide, like Classic or atrazine, to the mix, she says.
Earlier application of some Group 2 herbicides like Ultim or Accent will also allow you to go to the lower end of the recommended rate while still getting excellent control, she adds.
And here's a tip from a producer calling in on the OMAF crop hotline: he suggests that growers with low weed pressure might save themselves some money on weed control by switching to Roundup Ready corn and following up with IP soybeans.
The idea got a thumb's-up from OMAF weed management lead Mike Cowbrough, who says the idea pencils out well.
If you can get by with one application of glyphosate, plus the $8-10 premium cost of the seed, it may still be cheaper than a normal corn herbicide program. "By going to IP soybeans we look after herbicide resistance concerns, so this could be another possibility for reducing costs," he says.
Then there's the lesson of the past. Lynch believes growers are missing a cost-saving opportunity by not utilizing more inter-row culti vation.
He says there are definite advantages for corn growers, not just those with a smaller acreage.
He is suggesting larger growers use their normal weed control program around the perimeter of the field and wherever there's heavy broadleaf pressure.
"The rest we would spray with a low rate of Banvel plus a pound of atrazine, then cultivate at the six to seven leaf stage."
Scouting at the three-leaf stage will let you know if that is likely to be sufficient. Those with heavy annual grass pressure may have to go in with a post grass herbicide. But for the rest, "they could save $16 an acre on much of the field," Lynch says.
"It won't be the right approach for every farmer," Lynch admits. "But it may be a way for some to stay on top of their costs."
But Sullivan cautions the concept will be a tough sell with many producers. "I get a blank look when I talk about inter-row cultivation," he says.
"With more guys going to post-spraying, the cultivators ended up on the scrap pile."
Ferguson figures farmers can save themselves a few dollars by maximizing the amount of corn in their refuge. The trick is to find a non-Bt corn with good stalk strength and standability. Once you have that, there's no reason why you could not expand the size of the refuge beyond the prescribed 20 per cent, and thus save a few dollars on seed, she says.
If you're a soybean grower, this is an area where you don't want to skimp, especially if you've grown a lot of beans in the past, Lynch says. You'd be better off to keep the seed treatment but cut back on the seeding rate to make up for the cost of the treatment, he says.
Lynch points out that corn removes about 0.4-lbs/ac acre of phosphorous and 0.3 lbs/ac of potash per bushel of corn. If your soil is testing high you can reduce phosphorous applications to about half of removal rates, he says. And, if it's testing low, there is no point in putting on more than removal rates.
But any dramatic change in a fertility program that has worked in the past should be discussed with a certified crop advisor, Lynch cautions.
Taken from Ontario Farmer newspaper, March 8, 2005