I often use the expression “Next year’s crop begins with this year’s harvest” when talking to producers about the importance of getting your crop off to the right start. One of the biggest challenge’s producers face with growing crops at or near the 49th parallel is generally they only get one shot at growing our best crops. We have to maximize the use of limited sun and moisture to get our crops to maturity in a 3-4 month span. It does not give a lot of time to make corrective actions like reseeding or topdressing nutrients when needed. 

Many of the crops we grow set their maximum yield potential early. If we look at cereals, for example, the maximum number of tillers and the size of the heads are all determined by the 5-6 leaf stage.  It is crucial that we give our crops the best growing environment possible. Generally, cool season crops will yield better when seeded early because they flower during cooler weather. Getting an early start signals to the plant that it can take its time and generate more yield. It will not be in a rush to finish. Our next biggest challenge is predicting yield potential based on weather and mother nature likes to keep us guessing. Weather variability means we often cannot go by the calendar to determine optimal timing and planting dates.

Here are 9 different factors we use in our planting report cards that can help you assess if you have maximized your crop’s potential:

  1. Crop Rotation – Having a good crop rotation will help maximize soil health, nutrient availability and reduce the build up of pests.
  2. Residue Management – If residue is not properly managed, it can prevent the proper placement of seeds, reduce seed to soil contact or even tie up nutrients that were meant for your crop.
  3. Seed Bed Preparation – A nice even seed bed will mean optimal placement of seed which is crucial to even emergence. 
  4. Soil Moisture – Optimal soil moisture is crucial for even emergence and shallow placement.
  5. Seeding Depth – If we have to plant deeper to chase moisture, emergence can be delayed and more uneven as seedlings struggle to find sunlight. Planting too shallow without adequate moisture, can also lead to higher mortalities and/or uneven emergence without a proper rain.
  6. Plant Stands – Having adequate plant stands means we can better match populations to available water. Too high a stand and plants can run out of moisture during grain fill. Too low a stand will mean leaving yield in the field.
  7. Seed Placement – Placing seed at an even depth into moisture will help ensure a more uniform emergence.
  8. Emergence – Uniform emergence is crucial to ensure crop protection products are applied at the right stage, minimizing stress on the crop. It can also help with minimizing losses at harvest time.
  9. Pests – Early season pest pressure can stress a crop at a crucial time when yield is being set. It can also wreak havoc on your optimal plant stands.

The goal is to optimize conditions that will lead to a proper stand, an early start and even emergence. As agronomist Phil Needham says, “Well Sown = Half Grown”. If you can give your crop the best start, you are halfway to realizing its full yield potential.

To learn more about how to get your crop off to a great start this upcoming season, I have been invited as a panelist to share his thoughts on Do’s and Dont’s for #Plant21 in a free webinar hosted by AGvisor Pro this Wednesday, March 31st, 2021, 5:30pm MDT. Follow the link below to sign up!