“You’ve gotta start pulling triggers.”
Elston Solberg, agronomist and EarthDirstSoil co-founder, made this point both firmly and often at the Crop Intelligence Annual Summit. But, in order to do that, he stated that farmers must first trust their data so that they can then crush the agronomy.
Solberg noted that many farmers are still in a position where they’re getting great data coming back from their various equipment, but that data isn’t always properly utilized. This leads to a lack of confidence to pull triggers and make decisions with their crops.
Looking at maximizing profits, he added that farmers have the potential to get up to 80% more profit by adding four more bushels per acre—further strengthening the message that you can get pure profit when you pull triggers with confidence.
Solberg found that many farmers try to use Crop Intelligence as a yield predictor, when it really should be used as a trend watcher. When you see trends and trust the data, then you can go and make an informed decision.
Quoting professor Les Henry, Solberg relayed: “Water in the soil is a certainty, precipitation is a probability.” He added that, while farmers could always make decisions based on certainty—historically, there wasn’t much to be certain about. Because of this, some decisions had to be made based on probability. With the data available from the moisture probes, farmers now have the ability to make more decisions based on certainty.
“Water drives everything!” Solberg stated. Water is the most important yield limiting factor for prairie crop production and once you get a system in place to maximize all water yield potential, everything else will fall into place.
In addition to water, another major factor in increasing crop yield is looking at micronutrients – specifically boron (B). “If you look at micronutrients and rank them in terms of what plants want, boron is the king of micronutrients,” said Solberg. When a plant has lots of boron, the efficiency of potassium uptake increases six-fold.
When speaking to the effectiveness of Bio-Sul as a sulfur product he noted that sometimes when your crop isn’t responsive to added sulfur, it’s because there is too little boron. Micronutrient balance is key to getting that 80% profit increase.
Furthering the topic of nutrients, Solberg revealed that there are four key nutrients that are soil mobile that we need to pay attention to—nitrogen (N), sulphur (S), chloride (Cl) and boron (B). Other nutrients are immobile, and a bit more difficult to deal with.
He added that fertilizer sales have been flat since the mid 80s and, in that same environment, we’re growing more crop. What does that mean? It means that the soil is being heavily mined and, as a result, micronutrient levels are declining—which is not good for water use efficiency. That’s why making sure you have the right nutrient balance is very important. The only way to truly ensure that we have these nutrients is to continue to apply them.
To look at these nutrient levels, Solberg highly recommended doing tissue tests and to do some sampling at the beginning and end of the growing season. He noted that by doing a tissue test, he has found that some soil has more nutrients than the plant does. So, by running these tissue tests multiple times, you can connect a whole lot of dots with the data to make better agronomic decisions.
Solberg closed the session with some key takeaways. The opportunity to use the data to make better decisions is there. It’s all about balance. Water is the key nutrient, but we need everything else to be in balance too. If you aren’t playing around with nutrients, put out some elemental strips of sulfur or start tissue testing. And, ultimately, trust the data so you can crush the agronomy.