Friday, February 17, 2017

A Little Boost

Traffic jam - County Line style as Randy stops while feeding cows to talk to the Kanza Co-op spray rig workers.
Goldilocks had a hard time getting everything "just right." Papa Bear's porridge was too hot. Mama Bear's porridge was too cold. But Baby Bear's porridge was just right.

Getting things "just right" is best left for fairytales, though we'd all like to have a good dose of "happily ever after." That's easier said than done on a farm. Weather is always an uncontrollable factor in crop production. And these, days, with commodity prices low, it's a balancing act to try and keep input costs under control and still produce a good yield on a quality crop.
The Kanza Co-op recently used their ground rig to apply a couple of different inputs to part of our 2017 wheat crop - nitrogen fertilizer and Finesse herbicide.
This year, Randy decided to apply 10 pounds of nitrogen per acre. Last year, he had them apply 30 pounds per acre. He used the results from soil samples to determine the nitrogen application level. With each unit of nitrogen added to the field, there's a "diminishing return on investment." In other words, the cost outweighs the potential yield bump.

I'll admit that my eyes were starting to glaze over when Randy started explaining about "diminishing return on investment." So he pulled out his old textbook, "Economics for Agriculturalists: A Beginning Text in Agricultural Economics" and showed me a chart. Who knew those textbooks would still come in handy?

According to current research, if you put on 10 pounds of nitrogen per acre, there's a 2 bushel per acre boost in yield. If you put on an additional 10 pounds per acre, there's only a half bushel per acre increase in yield. The nitrogen costs $3.50 per acre.
 A "nurse" truck came to the field to replenish the rig.
During the applicator's same trip over the field, Randy also had them apply Finesse, an herbicide used to control broadleaf weeds, including kochia, henbit and wild mustard. Finesse needs to be sprayed before the wheat breaks its dormancy. Moisture will incorporate it into the soil. We hope to get some rain soon.

This year, it costs $2.50 per acre for the Finesse. This is 20 percent less than it was last year, a financial advantage that Randy says comes from the merger of the Kanza Co-op with some other co-ops, giving it better buying power.

Since we don't have our own spraying rig, we pay $5.00 per acre for the application. If you're adding that all up, it costs $11 per acre, an input expense that we'll add to the bottom line of producing our 2017 wheat crop. 

Later, Randy will have additional 2017 wheat acres sprayed with a different herbicide. That herbicide has less carryover. In other words, Randy will be able to plant sudan hay on those acres after we harvest the wheat in June. That's not an option for the acres sprayed with Finesse. However, Finesse is less expensive and has longer lasting control. Again, it's a consideration of what's "just right" for our farm - or as close as we can get it.
The plot thickens. Just like Goldilocks, we are hoping for a happy ending. We'll see what Mother Nature has up her sleeve as we continue the march toward the 2017 wheat harvest. The thermometer climbing into the 70s in February may delight golfers, but if the wheat breaks dormancy and starts growing, there is the potential for a damaging freeze if the temperature then goes back to more seasonal levels.
Just like in a fairytale, there are a lot of pages between "Once upon a time" and "They lived happily ever after." (For a complete look at the life cycle of wheat on our Kansas farm, check out "Aggie Visits the Wheat State," a blog I wrote a few years ago when we had Flat Aggie visit from a California elementary school.)


  1. The wingspan on the rig is impressive!

  2. And the urbanites complain like mad when the price of flour and bread increases!
    Here's to a fairy tale 2017 crop!

  3. Kim,
    Last night, J and I were talking about the trouble the unseasonable temperatures can cause. As humans, we like. I love opening the widows to air out the house!

    The cattle have decreased their feed intake and are out trying to find a little green. A lot of our snow has melted and the prairie is soaking it in like a sponge.

    We worry about "early spring" temps and grass, hay and alfalfa breaking dormancy. Not to mention the local farmers with winter wheat.

    We might not have to worry too much as the weather outlook is showing snow for mid-late next week. I hope your weather stays nice, but cools down a little.