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May 2012 Archive for Ask a Margins Expert

RSS By: Chris Barron

Chris BarronHave a margins question? Through this blog, you will gain insight into improving your bottom line, as a margins expert answers questions and provides farm business advice.


Scout for Better Margins

May 21, 2012

Crop scouting may be one of your most important activities during the growing season. Scouting helps us to determine potential problems with crops and can help us to be more proactive in cases where we see problems developing. Additionally, scouting can be the best barometers to measure the results of your management decisions.
The biggest problem with scouting during the growing season is, it's when everyone is so busy spraying, mowing, side dressing, picking up rocks, working on equipment, and a million other activities that need to be done during the summer. If you don't have time to properly scout your own fields, it's easy to justify paying someone to do so. As we make changes in our production practices, it's critical to prioritize time to analyze and measure the results. It's pretty easy to spend $10-$30 an acre on a production change, so make sure that it pays.
One of my farming partners spends a tremendous amount of time during the growing season scouting crops. The potential for payback can be large. Generally, there are no big changes to be made, however, several small changes or adjustments can add up to a fairly large margin improvement.
Here is an example of some recent pictures he took scouting soybeans. In this instance, the field was being planted with treated soybeans, but at the end of the field they used untreated seed.
treated seed treated seed 2
The pictures above are of treated seed. There was very little defoliation. It was also easy to find bean leaf beetle carcasses scattered along the row.
untreated seed 
The pictures above are of the untreated seed. The bean leaf beetles were actively defoliating the plants. "To the row," it was easy to see the value of the seed treatment.
At harvest time we’ll be able to measure any yield difference, subtract the cost of seed treatment and measure the profit improvement.
This is just one example of a detectable problem during the growing season which may not be visibly detectable at harvest. If there is a yield difference, there would be no way to know precisely why at harvest without the correct information from scouting.
Margin improvements can only be made if you can measure and calculate your changes with precise information. Scouting with proper documentation will give you another tool which can help you improve profitability.


Profitability and Later Planting Dates

May 07, 2012

Much of the planting this spring got off to a fast start. Some areas have been able to plant the entire corn crop with virtually no delays.
On the other hand, there are some portions of the Corn Belt with producers who have yet to plant a kernel of corn or who have been delayed midway through their planting window. The longer these delays last and as the calendar marches forward many producers begin to question whether their initial hi bred choices will fit with later planting dates.
If you're planting some full season-hi breds for your area you may begin to question whether or not it's too late to maximize your profitability on a full season hi bred. Another concern may be grain moisture and harvest timeliness. While these concerns are valid, it's critical to make your decisions with statistical information as opposed to emotional concerns and frustration, which we all deal with when we’d like to see our crop planted.
If you're starting to get concerned about planting your full season hi breds, be sure to have a conversation with your seed professional.  Remember, there is a reason you chose your original hi breds. It's important to understand that if you do make changes midstream, there could be additional costs/risks. The seed supply for many of the top hi breds is obviously very tight this year. 
Making a switch could easily result in a product with less yield potential. Hi bred technology and plant characteristics can have a more dramatic impact on profitability than Crop Relative Maturity in many cases. There is also research which indicates later planted corn tends to mature faster due to daylight and heat sensitivity.
Ask your seed professional for report which indicates the "latest suggested planting dates for corn in your area". This information should give you peace of mind that you’re planting the best hi breds at the appropriate times.
The bottom line is to do your homework before you make any decisions. The one variable which impacts margins the quickest is yield. If you're going to make a change to gain on one end make sure you understand what you're giving up on the other!
See this PDF from Pioneer Hi-Bred which provides additional information on this topic.

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