Time to Turn the Corner

Time to Turn the Corner from Central Valley Ag on Vimeo.

by Keith Byerly

by Keith Byerly

Two weeks ago, I proposed that given our weather forecast, we may need to deploy an irrigation strategy that included plant stress as part of our decision making instead of relying solely on the moisture probes to lead our decision-making process. As it turns out, that was good advice for the weather we had, but it is time to move on and let other strategies guide us from here forward.

If you also think back, you’ll remember that I said this strategy was short term. I wanted you to think this way for about two weeks, and then it was time to trust the probe and go back to more traditional irrigation scheduling. In that, we are confident in the moisture probe to tell us where we are at, and the ET forecast to determine where we will be going to. And that time is now. It’s time to trust our probes again as our lead indicator or scheduling irrigation.

Think of this corn plant as a factory. Up until pollination, the factory was under construction. Lots of resources were being put into having a plant that was capable of peak output. The construction crews are all gone now. This factory is never going to be more capable of production than it is today. All we have left is the production crews (roots and leaves) to turn our raw inputs (nutrient, sunlight, and water) into the finished product. In this weeks Reachout article, Mike talks about all these factors in greater detail, so I won’t rehash that. The whole reason I brought this up was to highlight one word, and that word is Manage.

From this point forward, your primary focus is going to be on Management. There is only one input left to manage for the next 45-60 days. You may make decisions about protection with Insecticides or Fungicides, but those will likely be spur of the moment decisions. What I mean is you will address issues as they arise, and then put them to bed. But the day in and day out constant is Managing moisture. So my question to you then is simple, what is your strategy?

Are you going to be the laid back manager?

The guy that waits for his workers (plants) to tell him that they don’t have the resources needed and have cut back production? I caution you that this is a dangerous strategy. Every time the factory cuts back production, it takes more resources to get going again, and production never catches up for time lost. This strategy may yield minimum inputs from you because you rely on your eyes to tell you when to water but definitely won’t yield maximum profit.

Are you going to be the engaged manager?

The guy that spends a little time each week in the trenches listening to the employees say what’s wrong, and then digging into the issues yourself. I would argue that this is the most common strategy over the past 30 years. We go out to the field ourselves or with a scout every few days to a week, take some soil cores, run them through or fingers and then make changes if needed. It has served us well, but I think we can do better.

Enter the analyst.

This manager has data constantly at their fingertips. Looking at forecasts (future ET), he is checking on his input and output numbers daily and looking for efficiency. Any anomaly in results vs. projections calls for his attention. This grower has adopted probes into her management strategy so that the data is always there and interpreted for them. And they trust it because of past experiences and because if you can’t trust the data, what can you trust?

In the past, I have worked for all 3 of these managers. I can tell you which was the most fun, and which was the most productive. Fortunately, plants aren’t people, and at the end of the year we don’t have to care what they thought about us. Our only focus at this point should be maximizing the yield that we get from the inputs. For those of you with AquaSystems moisture probes, I hope I’m preaching to the choir. For those of you that aren’t using moisture probes yet, or not using AquaSystems as your probe provider, get ahold of myself, or any of our Advanced Cropping Systems Regional Managers. We have demo probes in almost every region that we can show you and talk about the strategies that are in place and how we can manage our way to the end for maximum profits.