One thing you can’t complain about as a farmer is the view. Whether it’s the sun setting over a freshly cut hay meadow or watching a whitetail buck dart across a field when he is spooked from a resting spot, there is a lot of beauty in the rural setting. We can debate just what kind of country scene is the most enjoyable, but I’ll suggest that of all the views on your farm, there is one that provides more useful information than most: the one from your combine cab.
What you see from the combine cab can tell you a lot about the cropping year, the success of your management practices and the success of the products you have used. How you’ve done with weed control, planter setup, and water management decisions are just a few things that you can really verify by paying attention to what your field at harvest is telling you.
Here are some tips for a successful combine ride.
Don’t devote 100 percent of your attention to your yield monitor
It can be easy to jump to conclusions if you are not focusing on the right things. For example, yield monitors are great, but often they become such a strong focal point in the cab that they blind you to other information that can provide real insight. The yield data that can be compiled and used for nutrient-removal recommendations along with other long-term trends is very valuable if looked at objectively. Watching the swings on the monitor from the cab can lead to rash decisions. Make sure your monitor is logging information so it can be analyzed later. Then dim the screen for a couple rounds so you can focus on what’s going on in the field.
Grade your planting job
One of the best ways to do this is to evaluate the consistency of corn ears as they enter the head. Not just consistency from one area of the field to the other, but consistency from one ear to the next. Ideally, every ear would be the same size, but fluctuations in timing of emergence or fluctuations of intra-row spacing can really influence ear-size consistency. After ear consistency, evaluate stalk consistency both in spacing from neighboring stalks and in size compared to neighboring stalks. The cause of a spindly stalk is sometimes obvious from the cab. If spacing is even, the plant probably emerged late. If spacing is uneven, intra-row competition is often to blame.
Grade your weed control
Evaluating how weedy a field is from the cab is a universal practice. But to say, “Boy, that field is a mess!” or, “Man, that field is clean!” is not enough. Try to note not just how severe the weed pressure is, but also how diverse it is. What weed species are present? Paying attention to weed height might give some clues about when they emerged. Also, look at the crop condition around the weeds. Was it late pressure due to a delayed or inadequate crop canopy, or is there something to evaluate in the timing or product selection of the herbicide program?
Look for causes, not just effects
There are hundreds of issues both positive and negative that can be picked up from the cab. There are thousands of variables that may have caused that issue. If there is lodged corn, get out and split some stalks. Are there tunnels from insects? Is stalk rot present? Is this a wet area of the field or a droughty area? Is the soil type the reason for a change in performance, or is the nutrient level? Very often the view from the combine will answer questions. It can also raise more questions. But raising those additional questions can still be a valuable part of finding the right answers to improve your stands and yield.
Finally, what I’ve mentioned above is the kind of information you use when you sit down to discuss a crop plan with your MFA advisor. Write it down so you can have it with you. When you bring your MFA precision representative yield data to analyze the notes you take from the field, these extra notes may be the key to really unlocking the information on that field.
Of all the points in the year, harvest can be one of the most enjoyable. However, to ensure that there are future, better harvests to enjoy, it’s best to take the information your field has to offer and make improvements on the lessons these fields provide. Those lessons and improvements must come from objective observations. Informed decisions are a best management practice!
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