Trying to out-yield the precipitous price drop in the wheat market may be an expensive exercise in futility, say industry observers and crop specialists. Planted acreage across the U.S. will be down this year, and Southwest acreage could take another big hit, following a fairly significant reduction last fall.
Some producers might be tempted to plant wheat and make across-the-board production cost cuts. Be cautious, advise production specialists. Here are 10 cost cuts that could decrease production expenses without significant effect on yield and grain quality.
- Plant resistant varieties to help reduce input costs, such as insecticides or fungicides, and boost yields.
- Consider, in some regions, cutting back on planting rates to reduce seed costs. “In many areas of the Blacklands, for instance, it is common to see seeding rates of 90, 100, or more pounds per acre,” says Texas A&M AgriLife Extension state small grains specialist Clark Neely. “Trials we’ve done in the past show it doesn’t need to go that high if you’re planting strictly for grain production.
- Band fertilizer. “Use in-furrow phosphate at half the broadcast rate,” says Jim Swart, executive director of Cereal Crops Research Incorporated and retired Texas AgriLife Extension IPM specialist. “Research shows if they band instead of broadcasting, producers can cut phosphorus rates by roughly half and maintain the same yields.”
- “Reducing nitrogen rate is tricky,” Swart says. “But our research has shown it can be done. When following a heavy residue crop like corn or grain sorghum, most growers split their nitrogen — 60 pounds of actual N in the fall, followed by spring top dress N at 100 pounds. Research has shown we can reduce the fall rate to 30 pounds without penalty, and perhaps drop the spring top dress rate to 80 pounds of actual N. That would be a reduction of 50 pounds total nitrogen per acre. When planting behind soybeans and cotton, skip the fall nitrogen.”
- Soil sampling can save money. “By taking soil samples and putting a small amount of input costs up front, producers may credit nutrients already in their soils and possibly save a substantial amount in fertilizer costs on the back end,” Neely says.
- Planting date is also a consideration. “The optimum planting window (in northeast Texas) is from Oct. 25 through Nov. 10 for best yields,” Swart says. Producers should check with local Extension specialists or crop consultants to select best planting dates for specific areas.
- Evaluate weed populations. “If ryegrass is not an issue, producers can use a cheap herbicide like metsulfuron (Ally) to control broadleaf weeds,” Swart says. “Unfortunately, ryegrass is usually an issue, and has become more difficult to control without a sizable investment.”
- Application of a fungicide is a wise investment. “Use tebuconazole on every acre for yield protection,” Swart says. Data from 2015/16 trials “show huge yield increases from tebuconazole application.”
- Evaluate insecticide applications. “Don't automatically include an insecticide with top dress applications,” Swart says. “Scout first to see if aphids are present.”
- Tweaking production costs makes sense. “We want to avoid spending money to grow 50 bushels, and ending up with 35,” says OSU Economist and wheat farmer Rodney Jones. “The key in times of low prices is not necessarily to try to achieve top yields, but rather to try to get acceptable yields while keeping costs way down.
Bumping yield, Jones adds, is likely to make little difference in potential wheat profits. “We simply cannot produce a high enough yield in the current price environment to break even. Good yields often cost more money to achieve, and right now even 50 bushel-plus yields won’t cover all costs of production.
“The key is to cut out the high-priced inputs that don’t give much of a yield bump, while keeping in place management practices that give decent yields for a much lower cost.”
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