Yields are good, but efficiency is where it is

Top yields are usually the jokes of cafes in farming communities in the fall, but often overlooked is how efficiently farmers achieve those top yields.

Bryant Knoerzer operates a farm near Elwood, Neb., and strives to be efficient year after year. He has teamed up with Matt Furlong of Bertrand, Neb., for the past three years to pit his practices against other growers as part of the University of Nebraska’s Testing Ag Performance Solutions program.

TAPS allows farmers or teams of farmers to participate in field trials on small plots under the same conditions at the West Central Research, Extension and Education Center in North Platte. Knoerzer and Furlong competed in the subsurface drip irrigation corn division.

Knoerzer is also a Seitec Seed dealer. Furlong is a Seitec agronomist, so the choice of seed brand was a no-brainer. They went with Seitec 6433 VT2Pro. In addition to underground drip on five fields, Knoerzer also has center pivot and gravity irrigation systems in its own “real world” operation outside of the TAPS contest.

Try the technology

What Knoerzer likes about participating in TAPS is that “it’s a way to look at some of the new sensor technologies that are on the market, and you can watch them on this system. You can see how they fit without having to spend your money in the field. »

TAPS facilitates a number of interactive, real-life farm management competitions as an innovative way to connect growers with industry professionals and provide a way to test new advanced technologies through farm management competitions.

Last year’s competitions included sorghum, subsurface drip irrigated maize and sprinkler irrigated maize. Participants in each competition make their own entry decisions for their plots on the same ground as the competitors. These decisions include crop insurance, rate of hybridization and seeding, timing and amount of nitrogen, timing and amount of irrigation, and marketing of their crop.

While experiencing firsthand how the sensor technology works, Knoerzer says his participation in TAPS made him even more conservative about nitrogen use than he had been. “I probably did more tweaking the nitrogen than the sensors,” he says. “I’ve always been pretty conservative anyway, but I think it made me even more conservative” about using nitrogen.

That appears to have paid off in 2021 as the Knoerzer-Furlong team is tied for the best corn yield of 311 bushels per acre with a team from the Moorefield, Neb area.

Efficiency is where it is

Big yields are nice, but efficiency can be key. The Knoerzer-Furlong team won the award for highest input use efficiency of 2021 by being, as the name of the award suggests, the most efficient with their inputs. The team planted at a seeding rate of 32,500 seeds per acre and applied 135 pounds of nitrogen and 9.35 inches per acre of irrigation water to achieve their high yield.

“Without a doubt, it’s the most efficient farm that makes us the happiest,” says Knoerzer. “I mean it gives you the highest profit margin, and ultimately that’s what pays the bills at the end of the day, that’s your profit margin.”

Furlong agrees. “From an industry perspective, this industry is so performance driven,” he says. “It almost seems like profitability doesn’t say much about it. I agree with Bryant 100% on the effectiveness. The best performance is the icing on the cake. It’s really good, but the efficiency is where it is.

Although he has 15 years of experience as an agronomist, Furlong says his experience with Knoerzer has changed his approach to making recommendations in the field.

“I had a roundabout way to get to where I am. I would say in a lot of ways it started with Bryant,” he says. “His style of management rubbed off on me. Bryant always focused on profitability and didn’t want to take unnecessary steps or spend recklessly.

make him pay

Furlong embraces this mindset when exploring the Knoerzer fields. “Imagine that I will have to do the checks. How could I watch this? ” he says. “Sometimes I pick up the phone and call him and say, ‘Hey, here’s what we’re looking at. What do you want to do?'”

Knoerzer says the agronomist-farmer relationship should be a two-way street. “You are paying for expertise in this area, but I think you have the right to ask questions or think about it. Sounds like a good idea, but damn it, it’s going to cost us X, and do you really think we’re going to make a profit from it? »

Admitting that he and Furlong are too busy to regularly check the TAPS test plots, Knoerzer sees the benefit of the level of comfort provided by the sensors. “This program gives you confidence in using sensors to help you make decisions,” he says.

Furlong echoes that relying on technology and information they received from afar was probably a good thing. “We never got to the plot, and that’s probably a good thing because if we had actually seen it, we probably would have made decisions that weren’t really based on science, but on emotion. “, he explains.

Efficiency comes down to management, and the duo believe changing some of their decisions over the years has led them to what they achieved last year. “I think a lot of people go through this. Your first reaction is to throw everything out and the kitchen sink,” says Furlong. “And not only is it inefficient, but you’re usually quite disappointed with the performance. … You hit the law of diminishing returns very quickly.

Learn more about the TAPS program online at taps.unl.edu.

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