Four Takeaways from 2015

The precipitation map tells the story of 2015 growing season. From flooding rains, low nitrate levels, lack of oxygen and yellow, stunted corn to to areas that had almost ideal weather patterns and record yields. It is a year that most of us, regardless where we farm, won’t forget anytime soon.

The Regional Agronomy Managers for 360 Yield Centers each put their own experiences from 2015 down on paper and even though each region had a slightly different year, the summaries had very common themes and learnings. We have compiled those below in the four things we learned this year.

1) Don’t walk away from a crop.

There were many growers who looked at their crops in late June and were sure that it was impossible to salvage them. While there were some extreme cases this year, we learned that modern day hybrids are incredibly resilient and when given a fighting chance can recover. I had many growers comment to me that after initially giving up they attempted some rescue applications and were stunned at the results – areas that they expected zero bushels contributed 100 bushels or more.

2) Measuring to understand our Nitrogen bank

In areas that we experienced heavy rain, multiple applications of nitrogen and later applications of nitrogen paid off. This year it seemed that in these areas, the later we applied N and the more times we applied N the better the results. It is also consistent with the measurements we took in season; our soil bank was about empty when the crop still had a long way to go. This year we learned that all the N up front was not the right choice.

In areas that didn’t receive these flushing rains and had very good growing conditions, measurement showed us that N may not be our limiting factor. If we had a base rate (ie: 125#/A of N) our measurements frequently showed that strong mineralization allowed us to trim back our planned amount of applied N.

3) Micros and secondary nutrients are important.

While we focused much of our attention on nitrogen, the cool and wet spring also taxed our soils – especially low organic matter soils – to provide the needed nutrition for our crops. Even though a 200 bu/A corn crop needs ‘only’ about 26 lb. of sulfur, we learned that mineralization of those nutrients can be very limited and supplemental applications can yield very good returns.

4) Oxygen needs managed, too.

We don’t often talk about the importance of oxygen in our soils but we realized how critical it is in 2015. One of the main factors that can hinder the oxygen content is poor drainage or density layers. Sometimes what seems like nutrient issues can actually be more related to anaerobic conditions. Oxygen, along with temperature and adequate moisture, also drives the mineralization process, which explains why areas with adequate, not overwhelming, rainfall and good environments reaped the benefit of mother nature’s ‘free’ N.

No one knows what the season ahead has in store for us. But if we learn from the wild ride we had in 2015 and stay agile, we can react to Mother Nature. What did I learn in 2015? I will pay more attention to when the crop tells us to feed it and less on what we have always done. Progress does not come without significant change. This applies to all aspects of life, so I’ll be more open to change in order to be in a position to capture more yield.