The 2012 crop will likely be the most valuable crop in history and it will also likely be the most expensive crop ever to produce.

Utilizing all the crop inputs to their full potential, and wasting as little as possible in many cases, will be tantamount to making or losing money — despite the high prices farmers receive for their crops.

Long-time Virginia Tech Soil Scientist, now retired, Mark Alley says any yield that can be made efficiently, but for whatever reason is not made, can be a huge loss to the grower. The top end yields are what usually make money for growers.

The grower has to pay fixed costs for land rent, machinery and everything else. It doesn’t matter whether he harvests 100 bushels of corn or 200 bushels of corn — the fixed costs are the same. 

It doesn’t really matter whether it’s the extra 1,000 pounds of peanuts or the extra bale of cotton, the top end of the yield is what makes money. “With input costs so high and crops so valuable, this year it will be more important than ever to get all the yield a grower can get and to spend money wisely to get that yield,” Alley says.

‘Wisely’ is the key word, because the costs of crop inputs are higher than ever. The grower can get nailed economically by using inputs that don’t produce extra yield that is beyond the cost of the material and of getting it to the crop.

More than any time in history it is critical that growers be knowledgeable about every input he puts on his soil or on his crop and to be flexible in how and when he uses this inputs.

Being flexible means a grower should have a game plan for  the best varieties, how many seeds per acre he will plant, when to plant and such, but if conditions change, a grower needs to be ready to change.

Nitrogen is now a ‘year around sport’ that starts with an understanding of where we are at the beginning of the season. Then we take weather and different soil types and we manage throughout the season. In the Southeast that means multiple nitrogen applications.

The good news is growers have the best equipment we’ve ever had to do multiple nitrogen applications. The equipment is not expensive, relative to many other input costs, particularly the value of fertilizer.

“I remember early in my career it was a major expense and a time-consuming effort for a farmer to spread nitrogen on a large acreage farm. Fertilizer was cheap, but the cost of applying it was relatively expensive — it was something most growers tried to minimize,” Alley says.