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Soil sampling takes much longer when dealing with snow. (Mark Huso/Special to Agweek)

The end of harvest means the start of planning for 2018

2017 is coming to an end — almost abruptly some might say. We have had some very nice extended late falls the past few years that make us forget how soon the cold and wintery weather can put an end to our season.

We are still soil sampling, although it takes much longer when dealing with snow. I prefer to soil sample now, assuming we are still doing a quality job, so it takes pressure off of spring soil sampling. We would rather be available for our farmers in spring than be tied to our soil sample pickups.

A majority of the corn didn't get finished prior to the cold and snow. Along Highway 2 we are faced with what seems like a snow level in excess of 8 to 10 inches. Many farms are battling some tough harvest conditions by dealing with the snow, and I anticipate it may take another week for some to wrap up. Overall corn yields were good. However, some saw yield loss after the wind and storms left stalks and ears on the ground. We are seeing some varieties perform better than others in the dry conditions. Those who were able to plant later maturities also are seeing a benefit with higher yields.

Now we quickly have to analyze all of our different corn, soybean, canola and sunflower varieties as the seed retailers have already made at least one visit to the farm. Retailers understandably have to get their inventories in line for 2018, so it puts early pressure on planting decisions. While corn yields were good, the economics of corn currently don't compete with other crops. For many farms, simply choosing the acres of which crops to raise hasn't yet been determined. Corn acres may become wheat and soybeans. Some edible beans may become soybeans or even canola. Soybean acres might be switched to canola or sunflowers.

The economics are currently the heaviest weighted value in considering crop acres, but a close second is to manage weed control chemistries and crop rotations. Farms with more diverse rotations have an easier route in making that plan when raising wheat, corn, soybeans, canola and edible beans in the same season. The farms that raise two or three crops have to be more prepared to focus on weed chemistries to address the resistance issues many are facing.

There are few "easy decisions" when it comes to production agriculture. Equipment, labor, marketing, input purchases, crop insurance, land rent, land purchase, weed resistance and other factors have farmers and advisors teaming up more often to make the correct choices — both large and small.

Like many other advisors, we simply don't take the next few months off. We will continue to collect yield data and evaluate it for our farmers. Many farms now are able to use their variable rate technology and on some of those farms, we perform "in-field" block trials right into their prescriptions. We will look at different fertilizer rates including nitrogen, phosphate, potassium and sulfur. Seed rates also will be evaluated in corn, soybeans and edible beans. Several farms now use the variety locator and better compare all the different seeds they have planted. We will be evaluating fertilizer methods and cover crops that were tried in 2017.

Even though 2017 isn't over, 2018 is already full speed ahead. I look forward to the next few months visiting with farmers to review what we have done in the past to make us better in the next year. We try to attend many winter meetings not only to learn from speakers but to sit and learn with other farmers. With much to be thankful for, I wish you a wonderful holiday and winter season.

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