Independent research sorts through the jargon

Remember when you were a wide-eyed kid attending the exhibition in the city? All the hucksters wanted your money. Throw the ball in the basket or shoot a target and win a prize. It was always much harder than it looked. And in the games with “a winner every time,” the prize was worth a fraction of what it cost to play.

Farming is a lot like that. Everyone has something to sell and everything you buy is going to make you a winner.

Sales pitches have always been part of agriculture. The big difference these days is that farmers have money and we’re looking for ways to make even more.

A new product that cost $5, $10 or $20 an acre was a tough sell when you could scarcely pencil a profit and you wondered if you had enough operating credit to get you through to harvest. Now, you may be more inclined to listen to the sales pitch.

We know the basics about fertilizer use, but how do you assess the need for micronutrients that can be applied in various forms? Yes, plants need zinc, manganese and boron, but will there be a response on your land?

Herbicides have to be effective for weed control as well as safe for the crop before they can be registered. But with the proliferation of tank mixes and new names for the same products, it’s a real chore to figure it all out. The fear of herbicide resistance has become a major marketing tool.

Seed treating has become much more prevalent, and more fungicides are being applied in-crop. The negative effects are easy to see if you don’t use nitrogen or don’t spray for weeds, but that’s often not the case with seed treatments and fungicides, where it can be difficult to assess whether you’ve made a good investment.

Every manufacturer of seeding equipment has a system that is going to improve efficiency and the accuracy of seed placement. You can’t afford not to have the new system.

And variable rate technology will maximize the returns from the dollars you spend on inputs if you can just figure out the right prescription.

If you add up all the things you can buy to increase yields, we should be growing 80 bushels per acre on wheat and canola every year. Of course, even if we invest in all the correct inputs, Mother Nature bats last.

Don’t get me wrong. There’s been a lot of money left on the table by being too cautious with inputs, particularly fertilizer. And we need technological advancements to keep up with our competitors around the world. However, it would be great to have more independent testing and analysis. Applied research is done in various forms and various locations, but unanswered questions still abound.

We lost independent testing of canola varieties for awhile. It re-turned last year and hopefully it will continue to receive the support of the seed companies.

On-farm testing may seem like a great idea, but it has limited application. Do you really have the time to leave check strips?

And will you be able to detect a yield response if it’s only a few bushels per acre? Even replicated plot trials often provide inconclusive results.

It’s time to dig deep and invest big dollars to grow another crop. There are new products and approaches that will make you money. Do you know which ones they are?

Kevin Hursh is an agricultural journalist, consultant and farmer. He can be reached by e-mail at [email protected]

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