No farmer is ever satisfied with their crop. When harvest time comes, you think about all the things that went wrong, or ideas you want to try next year. As we head towards autumn, it’s not too early to start thinking about the 2020 growing season and ways to improve the grain yield.
These don’t have to be massively expensive ideas. And in some cases, improvement means going back to concepts used 100 to 200 years ago. So what are some of the ways to improve your crop yield? Let’s see.
#1 – Practice Soil Rotations
The first tip is something that’s been practiced by different groups on and off for more than 1,000 years. The Romans rotated crops, and we have records that some Native American tribes did the same, a practice they taught some of the early colonists.
The Romans called their practice “food, feed and fallow.” Each farmer split their field into three sections, with different goals. Farmers planted food crops like corn and wheat in one, then barley or other livestock feed in a second, and they left the third empty.
The idea was by leaving that third plot fallow, it restored nutrients in the soil. Then they rotated during the next year, planting food crops in that fallow plot. The same goes for Native Americans, who also used soil rotations to help stop erosion. In both cases, it led to higher yields each year.
In addition to helping the soil, rotations help your wallet. In the 1950s, farmers started moving away from rotations, using chemical fertilizers, weed killers and pesticides to increase production instead. But each of those options keeps rising in price, adding to farm expenses at a time when all costs are growing. By switching to soil rotations, farmers can eliminate some of these costs and still get the same result.
#2 – Manage Your Water
This has been a very wet growing season, leading to a loss of more than 6 million acres of corn and soybeans across the United States. With that in mind, water management is a critical part of maximizing your grain yield. It’s a tricky thing. You have to make sure crops get enough water, but not too much. You also need to protect your crops from fungus throughout the year. To do that, you need a drainage system.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has a test for this type of situation. Dig a 12-by-12-inch wide hole and fill it with water. You have good drainage if water drains from the hole in an hour. Your drainage is adequate if it takes several hours or up to a day to drain. But, if water stands in the hole for more than a day, then the ground is oversaturated, and you’ll need to take action. How do you do that? The Department of Agriculture offers a couple suggestions.
“Drainage can be improved by installing a French drain or perforated pipe, redirecting the flow of water or breaking up compacted soil,” a 2018 report from the Department of Agriculture says. A French drain, for example, is a trench that you fill with gravel or rock, redirecting surface water and groundwater alike away from your field.
#3 – Conquer Those Weeds
The third way to improve grain yield is to make sure weeds aren’t a problem. That means you start removing them early in the growing season and often. Some farmers will rip out weeds about once a month.
The USDA recommends weeding about once a week and provides a list of plants to be on the lookout for. If you see any of those plants, you need to rip them out immediately. The quicker you remove the weeds, the better your chances will be for a higher yield.
Why is that? It’s because weeds steal nutrients from your crops. Your corn or wheat will still grow, but they won’t be as strong, because they lack support from the soil.
#4 – Test Your Soil
For our fourth suggestion, you don’t have to wait until next year’s growing season. Soil testing is something you can do both in the fall and winter, so start planning ahead. Examine the potassium levels, see how much phosphorus is in your soil. Some crops do better in soils with high potassium levels and others struggle if the phosphorus content is high.
By testing your soil, you can sit down in November or December and plan out the best options for each part of your field. If you’re using soil rotations, it also tells you which part of the field is depleted and needs to be fallow this year. At a time when competition is high, it’s important that you put crops in the best environment to succeed.
#5 – Watch Your Planting Depth
Finally, how far down you plant is just as important as where you plant. Let’s say it’s unusually hot when you plant and the soil is very warm. In that case, you don’t want to plant too deep, as coleoptile lengths are shorter than normal when it’s warm.
If it’s been raining a lot and the soil is cold, you don’t want to plant too shallow, as you run the risk of seeds freezing. So what’s the solution? The USDA recommends 1.5 inches down as the best planting depth for most wheat, adding that it’s far enough in both directions to handle the demands of most soil types. Soybean planting depth should be specific to the field, but within one and two inches. You may have to plant corn deeper the later in the season that you plant due to warmer soil, but it’s never a good idea to plant corn shallower than 1.5 inches.
Once you’ve mastered higher yields, it’s time to master storage for all that grain. The best way to keep harvested grain in top condition until taking it to market is with grain temperature monitoring. Always knowing your grain temperature means always knowing the condition of your grain. Then, when you’re ready to sell, you can do it with confidence.
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