Dain Twait harvests soybeans

Dain Twait harvests soybeans in northeast Illinois. He chose later-maturing corn hybrids this year, and it seemed to work well. He plans to do the same next year. 

OTTAWA, Ill. — Time driving the combine is often passed thinking about the harvest coming in as well as plans for the coming season.

Thoughts gravitate toward yield. This year many experienced the Goldilocks effect, with some fields getting too much rain, some too little and some just the right amount at the right time. Whatever weather impact farmers had will be part of their consideration in choosing hybrids, fungicides and other management tools next year.

Changes to the budget must be balanced with expected commodity prices. With record yields in much of the U.S. in 2018, supply is high and prices low. That is exasperated by uncertain export markets, highlighted by the trade war with China.

When farmers can’t do much about falling commodity prices or rising costs of certain inputs, they look to their own systems to find profitability.

Two northwest Illinois farmers are looking specifically at potential yield boosters, nutrient management and soil health next year to maximize profit.

Dain Twait, a corn and soybean grower in Ottawa in northeastern Illinois, started harvesting his corn a little later than some of his neighbors this year. This is because he chooses to plant longer-maturing hybrids which have traditionally brought him higher yields.

“We’ll probably push later maturity again next year because we’ve seen yield benefits,” said Twait, who farms with his wife, his dad and his father-in-law.

They prefer to see green ground cover over the winter and have experimented with cover crops for the last four or five years. They will continue to do that next year because the practice benefits their small beef cattle herd.

They have tried aerial seeding with mixed results. This year they used a highboy Hagie sprayer to do the job, planting cereal rye with turnips. They plan to let the cattle graze on the turnips in late November.

The cover crops are part of their soil management plan. With the big corn and soybean yields in recent years, they try to replenish the soil and build organic matter “without going crazy on commercial fertilizer,” he said.

They also boost organic matter with their use of manure. Their management includes strip-tilling corn and planting soybeans into standing stalks.

“We want to maximize profitability at the end of the day,” said the La Salle County farmer.

Henry Zierer, who farms in McHenry County, Ill., not far from the Wisconsin border, harvested crops with excellent yields this year. He is going to continue to do some of the things next year that created successful yields this year.

One of them was putting nitrogen right into the crop where it is needed. This year he tried Y-Drop, a product of 360 Yield Center, to sidedress his liquid nitrogen to get it right where the plant needs it.

“It’s the first time I tried it. The yields were a lot better,” he said.

This year, there was also timely moisture on that field, so he wants to check and see if he gets the same positive results again.

“I’ll try that again next year,” he said. Spoon-feeding seed on his sandy soils pays off, he said.

Another thing he would like to add to his operation next year or in the near future is a yield monitor. He doesn’t have one in his older combine, but got to see one in action when his friend harvested some of his wheat this year.

On average, his wheat yielded 80 to 85 bu./acre. One field yielded 100 bu./acre.

“It would be nice to have a yield monitor and see where the sweet spots are,” he said.

He said it would also be handy in comparing his corn and soybean yields in fields with and without irrigation.

Despite high input costs and low commodity prices, he is also going to stick with some things that are working. For some products, the benefit is worth the cost.

“I’ve been using foliar feed on soybeans for a few years, and that seems to help,” he said.

Phyllis Coulter is Northern Illinois field editor, writing for Illinois Farmer Today, Iowa Farmer Today and Missouri Farmer Today.