Southern Spotlight: Best Laid Cropping Plans

James Banahan

James Banahan

So you probably know which acres are going to wheat next, right?  You know this because it’s happening soon, if not already.  But what do you know about the rest of your acres?  Do you have their rotation plan hammered out yet?

It’s a guess, but I’d wager that that rotation plan, however sketchy it is in your head at the moment, might be a bit bean heavy.  I’d guess so because when it’s all penciled out, beans are currently bringing the best return on investment.  In fact, their ROI might be tempting enough to have you considering planting beans after beans on some of your acres.  While this isn’t the worst idea I’ve ever heard, there are some important considerations to make before you commit.  When it’s all said and done, the beans on beans strategy usually isn’t as glitzy as it first appeared.

Let’s put money aside for a second.  While corn and milo, even wheat, doesn’t pencil out as good as beans at the moment, it’s still the best practice to rotate your acres.  Rotation lends to healthier soil and fields and breaks troublesome weed and insect cycles.  If you’re not rotating, you can count on any weed pressures, insects, or diseases that existed in your fields this season to continue right on to the next.

Weed problems persist from one season to the next when not rotating crops.

Weed problems persist from one season to the next when not rotating crops.

That’s the core of the problem with not rotating, and its economic toll can be significant.  So let’s bring money back into play now: for example, insects overwintering in your fields will require a good old dose of insecticide in the future, costing you $10-$12 per acre that you wouldn’t have had to spend had you rotated crops.  It’s these kind of problems, which are specific to acres not benefiting from rotation, that start to take some serious bites out of that ROI that once looked so alluring on paper.

If you’ve never planted beans on beans before, this probably isn’t the time to start.  It’s a special situation that requires careful management, different fertilizers, seed treatments, etc.  These details affect cost and return, often more significantly than you’d think.

If you’re strongly committed to a continuous crop plan though, you can do it, though you need to be willing to spend and spend liberally.  You,also, would be best served by being quite selective about the acres on which you enact your plan.  Acres that didn’t produce well this season won’t produce well next season, so they’re not good candidates—they take lots of work and offer little payoff.  A continuous crop plan is best executed on only your best acres, so review carefully!

Regardless if this article has swayed you one way or another, I’ll call it a victory if it at least has you thinking about your next rotation.  Hammering out your plans in advance will alleviate some stress from your life and from your agronomist’s life as well.  Because our cooperative doesn’t speculate on fertilizer but instead buys it as needed, a last minute decision on your part might make it tough to secure the inputs you need to be successful.  Your plans also help us forecast seed orders correctly which makes us more profitable which comes back to you through patronage and improved services.

In the end, whether you’re swinging for the fences with a continuous crop plan or securing your place in the Hall of Fame with a healthy and reliable rotation, knowing your cropping plans is a win win situation.  It gives you the time to lay out a solid management plan and indicates to us, your cooperative, which way the wind is blowing so that we can be best prepared to support you and your operation.