Not getting the outcome we feel we deserve can be extremely disheartening in any walk of life. Nobody knows this truth more than farmers who pour their blood, sweat, and tears into their craft year round.
If we aren’t getting the results we’re looking for, it’s often human nature to assume that something needs to be added to the equation. When it comes to farming, however, more and more frequently we’re finding that the solution isn’t to add more, but to put in less – if your operation isn’t getting the results you’re looking for, something (and at times, several things) may need to be taken OUT of the equation.
Of course many in the industry would scoff at such a notion. After all, inputs, and specifically those of phosphorous and potassium, are often encouraged based on soil fertility levels, putative yield response, maintenance and buildup. But all of these factors pale in comparison to the real end-goal – a profitable response. Producer Marion Calmer of Western Illinois knows this all too well.
Farmer Turned Scientist
“If I’m going to spend $50 for phosphorous and potassium,” Calmer says, “I really think I need a $65 or $70 response in extra green in order to make it worthwhile.”
As an increasing number of producers like Calmer know, the only way to truly find out if and why this is the case is through running your own tests… though we know this can feel intimidating at times. After all, most farmers are not scientists and wouldn’t it be easier to just accept the conventional wisdom that many scientists, and the industry, endorse?
Easier, yes. More profitable? The answer may surprise you.
As for Calmer himself, he’s been doing side-by-side tests comparing different input levels and different means of implementation for the past 31 years. In those three-plus decades of testing, his operation has seen every kind of weather imaginable – too dry, too wet, too hot, too cold. Despite unpredictable weather patterns, the results of his tests keep coming back the same.
“Every year I’ve gotten a cosmetic response (for plots with added fertilizer). You can stand out here and look at these fertility plots and you can always tell which one got the fertilizer. I can also tell you we’ve gotten a yield response, but out of the last 31 years there’s only been one year where I’ve made any money. And so I’m starting to question my soil fertility program and everything I learned when I went off to college.”
Over the past 10 years specifically, Calmer has been running more continuous, strategic tests – dispersing 60 feet of fertilizer, 60 feet without and so on. The decade-long data, specifically on soil fertility, hasn’t wavered – despite the different inputs, the plots didn’t show much of a difference in phosphorous and potassium levels. Calmer was rather troubled by this.
“Number one, (I’m) not getting an economic response, but number two I can’t tell it when I look at the soil fertility that I’ve been fertilizing for the past 10 years or not fertilizing…. (so) at my farm, I’m probably not going to put on any P or K until I know without a shadow of a doubt that it’s going to make me money. I’m tired of assuming that it’s a good thing, and we all know what assuming does.”
So what does Calmer suggest?
“Take some time and lay out your own strip trials. It’s not that difficult with the onset of GPS and the onset of auto-steer that you can come in and spread 60 feet and leave 60 feet, spread 60 feet and leave 60 feet… and then come back in and harvest it. With a scale on the grain cart, it’s pretty easy to track that information and that way next fall you’ll have something to look forward to. You can harvest your own data at your own farm and you can find out ‘did I spend $60 for P and K and did I get $60 or $70 worth of green back.’”
A Mindset for Success
We often talk at Merit or Myth of mindset changes. One of those mindset changes that producers can benefit from is the idea of not just harvesting their crops, but harvesting their own data. After all, it is only through personal data that you can ensure your operation is as cost-effective and running as efficiently as possible.
So could you be wasting time and money on inputs that your operation doesn’t need? If you haven’t harvested your own data, Calmer and an increasing amount of producers would probably say the chances are pretty high. The only question is what are you going to do about it?
To keep up with Marion Calmer and his operation, visit calmercornheads.com.
Join the revolution,
– Barrett Self