As the Dust Settles...
Western growers have their share of concerns--severe drought, falling commodity prices, a strong dollar working negatively on exports and potentially higher interest rates. All of these concerns are factors that are not controllable, so let’s take a realistic look at factors that can be controlled.
Fertilizer: This is a bright spot as we exit 2015 and enter 2016. Global fertilizer markets have softened, with overall prices down a third from a year ago. Fertilizer makes money for growers. Other crop inputs actually cost money, but fertilizer is an investment that increases the yield and quality of our crops. For example, when herbicides are applied to control weeds it is for yield preservation, not optimization. When insecticides are sprayed, it’s also for yield preservation. Fertilizer is for yield optimization.
Variable Rate Application: Ratcheting back fertilizer expense will likely cost a grower money, rather than preserving capital. Do not cut back on fertilizer in low soil test areas, but it does make sense to re-distribute fertilizer from high soil test areas to low soil test areas. If you are interested in variable rate application, contact your Helena Representative to talk about our HyGround® soil management service. HyGround is an analytical tool that combines EC mapping with geo-referenced soil samples. This provides precise information management that can be used to confidently manage nutrition needs.
Split Application: When all fertilizer needs are applied pre-plant, they are susceptible to leaching, denitrification and other losses. Worse than that, a weather disaster could wipe out a crop before that fertilizer is needed. By working closely with your Helena Representative, you can design and implement highly effective split application fertilizer programs. If 20-35% of a crop’s fertility needs are used for “in- crop” applications, the value is that the fertilizer will feed the crop in season. Helena’s exclusive tissue testing program, Extractor®,is very useful in monitoring the crop’s fertility level while generating prescription fertilizer programs to keep the crop nutritionally sufficient.
Return on Investment (ROI): Does it make sense to cut back expenses? In some cases, yes, but probably not in most cases. When deciding on what can be cut out, think about the long term costs associated with cutting products, services or programs. If P or K is cut back, there are long term yield and quality impacts associated with mining our soils for fertilizer. If pre-plant herbicide applications are skipped, the crop is set up for failure, and potentially aggravating weed resistance problems. Thus, the focus should change from cutting back to focusing on ROI.
When ROI is used as the least common denominator, purchasing decisions are made on covering the investment, and in some cases making back 2, 3, 4 or sometimes more back on that investment. Our Helena Products Group (HPG) has many innovative products that are designed to increase crop yields and quality. Most of these products have an ROI greater than 3:1.
Bottom Line: Feeding, fueling and clothing the world’s growing population isn’t easy, or stress free. But a sharp focus on fertilizer that is variable rate applied and/or split applied, and paying attention to ROI, can help take the guesswork out of using the correct nutritional inputs. In the current growing environment, there has never been a better time to work closely with your Helena representative to plan crop needs for 2016.
-Casey Hughes, NW Division Agronomist