How many crop production practices are you following just because they don't cost much and you consider them “cheap insurance?” Could some of them actually be gnawing away at your profits?

A program called “10 Easy Ways to Boost Profit $20/Acre” is aimed at shedding light on practices that may not be so cheap after all.

University of Nebraska Extension specialists frequently heard producers discuss such practices in their production mix. Conversely, other practices that don't cost much are often overlooked to the detriment of crop profits.

In response, Nebraska crop specialists and Extension educators identified a list of practices that fall into one or the other of those categories. They can add up to a lot of money, says Andy Christiansen, Hamilton County, NE, Extension educator. He was among the developers of the new program — simply put, “10/20.” It's based on 10 topics, $20 more profit per acre, 20 minutes per topic in a one-day session, presented at a cost of $20 per participant.

Actually, 22 such topics have been identified for presentation at the workshops, which have been held since the program was launched two years ago. Most crop farming operations would presumably find about 10 practices among the 22 that could potentially apply to them.

From those 22 topics, 10 are selected for any given workshop, based on topics most likely to apply to farming conditions and practices in the area where the workshop is held (see sidebar on page 7).

Christiansen says topics chosen must meet the following criteria: be under-adopted on farms in the region; be backed by solid on-farm research; have a documented dollar value; and be affordable to adopt.

After attending one of the more than a dozen workshops held in 2004, Hordville, NE, farmer Paul Blase was convinced he wasn't taking a big enough nitrogen (N) credit from his irrigated soybeans for corn that followed. “I can probably push that for a little more,” he says. He now takes a 1-lb. N credit for each bushel of his 60-bu. irrigated soybean yield rather than the typical 45 lbs.

Both university research and on-farm research in a couple of farmer-based crop profitability projects in Nebraska confirm for Blase what he has now confirmed for himself: The higher credit works. “I can't say that I've seen corn coming up short of nitrogen.” That 15-lb. savings at today's N prices is significant.

Since attending the workshop, Blase has also dropped inoculating soybeans. He says he doesn't need that practice “…if I rotate (soybeans) every other year or every two years.” The inoculant costs only $1-2/acre, but it's still a cost, and maybe more important is the time it takes.

Dropping soybean inoculation in a corn-soybean rotation is a profit-enhancing measure that Sutton, NE, farmer Lyle Nunnenkamp also adopted after attending the workshop.

The 10/20 workshop has also prompted Nunnenkamp to take another look at his yield goals, and ask: “Is that the most profitable yield goal?” He's now trying to pin down the yield level beyond which additional bushels no longer cover the input cost of getting them.

In the past, Nunnenkamp chopped stalks with a rolling stalk chopper. But as a consequence of findings presented at the 10/20 workshop, he's “pretty much gone away from that on dryland,” which he no-tills. He's even considering dropping the rolling stalk chopper pass on his ridge-tilled irrigated ground. Its elimination saves fuel and time, which can add to profit per acre.

Upping the 45-lb. N credit from soybeans for a following corn crop has his attention, too. “With the price of fertilizer, I think I'm going to utilize that (higher credit tied to his irrigated soybean yields.)”

Nunnenkamp got involved in the Quad Counties On-Farm Research Program last year, with some research on his own farm involving soybean inoculant trials and “favorite hybrid” comparisons.

The Nebraska Soybean and Feed Grains Profitability Project is another on-farm research program that shares results from farmer trials set up under the guidance of University of Nebraska ag Extension educators and ag specialists. The 10/20 workshop encourages participants to check out on-farm research results that can be found at the Web site http://farmresearch.unl.edu. Some of those on-farm trials relate to profit-boosting tips presented at 10/20 workshop sessions.

“The more replicated trials, the more you think it's the thing to do,” Nunnenkamp says.

About two dozen 10/20 workshops have been held the past two years, attracting a total of about 350 participants, according to Christiansen.

Easy Ways To Boost Profit

Here are 22 profit-boosting topics from the University of Nebraska 10/20 workshop. Each is assigned a value per acre based on certain assumptions.

  1. Eliminate one field operation, such as shredding stalks, $3.89/acre.

  2. No-till farming in dryland cropping systems, $39.50/acre.

  3. Switching to no-till to save irrigation water, $20.64-34.40/acre.

  4. Credit soil for nitrate nitrogen, $14.10/acre.*

  5. Credit soil organic matter for nitrogen, $6.50/acre.

  6. Eliminate unnecessary use of phosphorus, potassium and sulfur, $36.46**/acre.

  7. Take advantage of manure resources, $0-100/acre.

  8. Giving proper nitrogen credit for legumes in corn and milo rotations, $11.70-31.20/acre.

  9. Corn/soybean rotation vs. continuous corn, $64.07/acre.

  10. Eliminate use of inoculant on soybeans where soil has a history of beans, $1.50/acre.

  11. Setting realistic yield goals, $2.50/acre (yield goal set too high) or $19.50/acre (yield goal set too low).

  12. Skip-row corn on improved drought tolerance in rain-fed corn, $0-82/acre.

  13. Generic products vs. name-brand products, minimum of $7/acre.

  14. Eliminate routine treatment of wireworm, $4.44/acre.

  15. Managing foliar diseases of winter wheat with fungicides — treatment criteria, profitability and products, $6.25/acre.

  16. Selecting resistance in soybean varieties to combat soybean diseases and nematodes, $30/acre.

  17. Leasing or sharing machinery, $8-10/acre.

  18. Improve efficiency of irrigation pumping plants, $18.81/acre.

  19. Repair leaking gates/gaskets and eliminate an irrigation set, $15.37/acre.

  20. Using cutoff ratio to fine-tune furrow irrigations, $5.60/acre.

  21. Harvest soybeans at 13% moisture, $6.74/acre.

  22. Using on-farm research to evaluate profitability, a practice for which no monetary value is calculated.

* Applicable to semi-arid climates, where nitrate nitrogen from the previous year and N mineralized from soil organic matter are less likely to be leached from the root zone, or be denitrified under excessively wet soil conditions.

** Based on applying a corrective amount of nutrient once a soil test shows that the nutrient has declined to a critical level for the crop, vs. maintenance and build nutrient applications.