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Harvest Observations: One Year Isn't a Pattern


Growers spend all year preparing for harvest. Once the combines roll, it’s finally time to see how their hard work has paid off. As exciting as it can be, this is also when growers start reflecting on the decisions made throughout the year. At this time, especially if the weather allowed for an early spring planting and a late fall harvest, some growers start to reconsider their seed selections and relative maturities for next year.

While weather will always factor into seed selection and management decisions, Branden Furseth and Brian Weller, Dairyland Seed regional agronomists, say growers should look at the bigger picture when it comes to making those decisions.

One Season Is One Season

Furseth, who works in Wisconsin, says each growing season is unique in its own set of challenges and growers should consider previous performance whenever they are evaluating management decisions. For example, if growers are evaluating fertilizer programs, Furseth says they should look at five- to 10-year performance data. If they are evaluating their seed selections, they should look at three- to five-year performance.

“File this year away as part of the collective history, don’t just look at it for what it is,” Furseth explains.

Weller, who primarily works in Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota, agrees with Furseth. He says growers in his territory experienced very dry weather this year. While they shouldn’t discount the weather in 2021, he says they shouldn’t throw out the entire gameplan either. Instead, if growers want to adjust seed maturities, he encourages them to ease into those changes.

For example, if growers want to adjust their maturities, he suggests they follow a plan similar to this:

  • Plant 10 to 20 percent of their acres at an early maturity
  • Plant 60 to 70 percent of their acres in their standard maturity
  • Plant 10 to 20 percent of their acres at a later maturity

Using a planting strategy like this, as well as a variety of hybrids, helps spread out risk. Furseth agrees with that advice and adds that growers should, “Stay at your home base, then play with things on the fringe.”

Try Something New Each Year

At the same time, growers are only given so many chances to put a seed in the ground and take it out. For that reason, Furseth and Weller encourage growers to try something new each year to see if they can “tweak something to learn something.”

“We can’t control the weather, but we can look at new ideas and bring some of those into the operation as it makes sense,” Weller says.

If growers decide to change anything about their management plans, Furseth says they need to consider the trickle-down effect. For example, if a grower wants to try no-till planting, this will affect planting population, the type of equipment used, seed maturities and more.

“Everything is connected and if you make one change you need to consider what other areas will be affected by that one change,” Furseth adds.

Plan Ahead, Don’t Overreact

Even in areas where the weather fluctuates year-to-year, Furseth says growers should still look at the five- to 10-year performance in those areas. To help make those decisions, he says growers need to have good recordkeeping. At the most basic level, this starts with keeping a notebook in the combine to write down observations during harvest. Additionally, growers can use data management tools, like Granular Insights, to find actionable ways to use the data that is collected throughout the growing and harvest seasons.

Furseth also encourages growers to open up communication with other team members. Getting observations and input from the people responsible for planting, spraying, field scouting and harvesting provides a more holistic and inclusive perspective of the growing season.

“It’s a team effort,” Furseth adds, “we work together to create a story of what is happening in your fields across multiple years.”

Lastly, Weller and Furseth encourage growers to talk with trusted sources, like university specialists and other growers. One way to do this is by joining producer groups. Although what may work on one farm may not work on another, Furseth says being a part of these groups provides growers with a chance to network, learn and bounce ideas off each other.

“There isn’t a right or wrong answer for what you should do to manage your crops,” Furseth explains, “but you need to keep learning and dial into what works for your farm.”

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