Nobody has to explain why keeping costs under control should be a major priority during the coming growing season. With prices of everything from seed to fertilizer to pesticides to equipment on the upswing, it’s critical to do everything possible to keep your costs in line.

During the recent 16th National No-Tillage Conference in Cincinnati, Ohio, finding new ways to control cropping costs seemed to be on the mind of all 766 attendees. While a number of speakers emphasized the importance of controlling costs, Marion Calmer told attendees that he believes it starts with doing your own on-farm research.

Plant Top Yielders

The operator of Calmer Ag Research and Calmer Corn Heads in Alpha, Ill., stressed the importance of selecting the best-yielding corn hybrids and soybean varieties. His 2007 data indicates the top six Monsanto corn hybrids averaged 236 bushels compared to 222 bushels per acre for Pioneer hybrids. With corn prices averaging $4 per bushel, this represents a difference of $56 per acre.

When soybean varieties were compared, there was no difference.

Row Widths, Populations

Calmer evaluated no-till soybeans in three row widths last year. Soybeans averaged 63.9 bushels in 15-inch rows, 60.7 bushels in 30-inch rows and 53.1 bushels per acre in 45-inch-wide rows. With $12 soybeans, the difference between 30- and 15-inch rows amounted to a boost in income of $38.40 per acre.

Plant populations is another area where Calmer believes you can trim input costs. The “No-Till-Age” chart at left offers results from his 2007 soybean evaluations. “There’s considerable potential for boosting soybean returns with lower seeding rates,” he says.

Population differences in 2007 with no-tilled corn weren’t as great:

  • 240 bushels per acre with a seeding rate of 36,000 or 34,000 kernels.

  • 239 bushels per acre with 32,000, 30,000 or 28,000 kernels per acre.

  • 238 bushels per acre with a seeding rate of 26,000 kernels per acre.

While there are significant opportunities to reduce costs based on plant populations, Calmer cautions that you need to evaluate seeding rates based on your own no-tilling conditions.

No-Till Fertilization

In 1997, Calmer found not applying any nitrogen to no-tilled corn resulted in a yield of 120 bushels per acre. Yields increased to 165 bushels with 60 pounds of nitrogen, to 179 bushels with 100 pounds of nitrogen and to 185 bushels with 140 pounds per acre of nitrogen.

Based on $4 corn, Calmer is convinced that applying more nitrogen will pay in 2008, even with environmental concerns. Based on $650 per ton nitrogen, he demonstrated to NNTC attendees the favorable economics of boosting nitrogen rates, although he cautioned that profitability begins to level off as you increase rates. His math shows:

  • Compared with no nitrogen (N), applying 60 pounds of N would cost $24, yet boosts income by $180 per acre.

  • Adding another 40 pounds of N to 100 pounds costs $16, yet increases income $56 to $236 per acre — a net increase of $40.

  • Applying another 40 pounds of N to 140 pounds costs $16, yet boosts income by $24 to $260 per acre — a net increase of $8.

Yet Calmer is quick to point out that you’ve got to establish test plots to see what happens on your own farm before settling on rates.