Growing a crop is very expensive.
Current budgets from the Mississippi State University Department of Agricultural Economics show that a grower can expect to spend around $900 per acre in the production of cotton — and believe it or not, that does not include land cost.
For soybeans the figure is almost $400, which used to be the cost of growing cotton.
For corn, better get ready to spend around $700 per acre plus whatever the land costs.
And the cost of growing peanuts — the newest agronomic crop in our area — comes in at around $750 per acre.
These costs are for irrigated production. Here in the Hills where we don’t do much irrigation we can chop significant numbers from these figures, but we also have to take the risk that we may not receive adequate rainfall to allow our crops to produce yields that will allow at least some profit.
We have seen years when rains did not arrive in time for corn and soybeans, and our yields were very low as they were last year. Cotton is more drought-tolerant in most cases
The best and really the only way we can significantly reduce production costs in our crops, particularly cotton and soybeans, is to avoid spending whenever possible.
And the only way to do that effectively is to scout fields and only expend funds on those practices that are necessary.
This is a very sensitive subject for many people. Prior to joining the Extension Service I experienced this first-hand as a consultant when I did not recommend treating fields for certain pests even though neighboring farms were spraying regularly. Some people simply cannot stand to see others spending money without spending some, too.
As I have said many times, there is very often more psychology involved than agronomy, entomology, weed science, or plant pathology.
Perhaps the best example of this is cotton, a crop that has traditionally been treated intensively for insects.
There is still a strong feeling among growers that the presence of insects in their fields is a negative thing when in truth the scout or consultant or whoever is monitoring the crop should understand that a balance of predators and pests is acceptable. The cotton plant has a tremendous capability for compensation for the loss of fruiting forms and is still be able to produce normal yield.
The fact that we no longer have boll weevils means that cotton can now be allowed to grow almost naturally just as it did prior to the entry of that pest in the 1920s.
The same principles also apply to other crops, only not as directly as in cotton.
The fact is that cotton can be grown for as little as half the projected budget I mentioned above, and this same trend applies in varying degrees to other crops like soybeans and peanuts as well.
The corn budget is not as easily trimmed since a greater portion of the costs for this crop are in the form of nutrients that directly translate into large variations in yield. Neither does corn have the frequency of pest and disease issues that impact crops like cotton, soybeans, peanuts, rice, wheat, and others.
I’m already expecting someone to say I’m wrong about that, but then that’s my experience when others may have seen it differently.
My take home message is that a major part of producing crops profitably is being conservative.
Don’t cheat yourself on soil fertility, because that destroys the plant’s ability to overcome adversity, but only spend money on necessities otherwise.
An understanding of the biology of insects, diseases, and weed pests is necessary to accomplish this. Too many people spend money on crops simply because they may now know better or they have not bothered to find someone who does to advise them.
Ernie Flint is an Extension Regional Agronomist with Mississippi State University. Email him at [email protected].