Any kind of activity, from sports to agriculture, must have priorities. There is always a list of required tasks to be performed, not just to minimum levels, but to very high standards to achieve high levels of success.
While yield is certainly not the only gauge of profitability in crop production, it is among the most important. The list of priorities in crop production can vary a lot from one farm to another and from one year to another. Some of priorities are:
Land selection — This one may be difficult since land may be passed down or a grower may have to work with whatever land that is available. The art of making less-than-ideal land produce well can lead to success for those people who are able to do it.
Often the perception that potential buyers or renters of land may have of a certain piece of property is based on past management, which may not have been the best. These farms may be “diamonds in the rough” for farmers with the ability to manage them well.
Soil management and fertility — Of all the items that could be placed on a list, this one can be the most important to yields and success. Often when I see this item relegated to a low priority, the producer is struggling or may ultimately fail.
Proper soil management and fertility can overcome many obstacles, often outranking some of the more popular items like irrigation, newer equipment, and even some of the more aggressive pest or disease control strategies. A farmer with a conservative style and an aggressive but sound soil fertility program will usually come out on top in profitability.
Integrated pest management — This one can get very complicated since it is likely the most highly debated major category of tasks in crop production. Producers are constantly exposed to promotional programs for products, technologies, and services that claim to be the most effective, the most profitable, the most widely used and so on. We seldom hear a manufacturer say something like “apply only when well-determined threshold levels are reached.”
The product may really be good, but the goal is the sale. The smart salesperson studies how best to market a product or service, but the grower must be just as savvy in knowing when and how to use it to best advantage.
Experience is the best teacher, and it has taught me that the best response and profitability from applications likely come from less than half of the pesticide applications we make. We are fortunate if the other half produces enough response to cover the cost. The art of this is knowing which half is the most needed and justified. The only way to determine that is to spend time in fields monitoring the things that have the potential to reduce yield.
Equipment — Good, well-maintained equipment is necessary for efficient farming. By simply reducing tillage, a farm can reduce equipment needs, maintenance cost, fuel cost, and labor cost dramatically. The only part that does not change much is the equipment needed for harvesting.
Equipment lasts much longer since dust is not a major factor in reduced tillage or no-till. Lower horsepower will often suffice since the only need for the biggest tractors is that of lifting the huge equipment, especially planters, being used today. Maybe we need to go back to towed planters.