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Chickpeas are ripening at the Torgerson Farms Partnership in Ethridge, Mont. (Lance Lindbloom/Special to Agweek)

Planning for the 2018 crop season

The 2017 crop season is definitely one that will go in the history books and will not soon be forgotten. Red flag and fire warnings seem to be hitting my phone on a regular basis. With seemingly record heat topped with no measurable precipitation in the forecast, planning for 2018 crop season cannot come any sooner.

So how did we fare the last month? Remarkably, many areas still had a harvestable crop. The fall of 2016 and spring of 2017 remind us that Mother Nature can fill our soil profile in a relatively short period of time.

We were not seeing "Boone and Crockett" type lentil yields across the Golden Triangle, but consistent yields of low teens to mid-20s were harvested, proving our desert-like conditions can produce a high quality lentil. Garbanzo beans, also known as chickpeas, were the shining star at many locations. Again, not record yields, but they did a nice job handling the excessive heat and tapped into moisture where lentils could not.

Spring wheat yields, especially in crops seeded later, were disappointing to say the least. To swing this one positive, however, the quality was good and protein measured off the charts in many instances.

Even though it seems like we should have a breather between harvest and planting, there is a small window, sometimes overlapping, between combines wrapping up for the season and drills seeding winter wheat. Planning is always important, but years with dramatic extremes in temperature and moisture require even more intensive management.

2017 will go in the record books as excessively dry, excessively hot and below average on yields. One of the first questions we ask is, "What did we leave in the dirt?" Field yield maps can provide a good idea on crop nutrient removal, but we need to layer this information with historical soil testing and fertility history in order to paint a picture of "what's in your dirt." Fall soil sampling provides real time analytics to assist in clarifying crop nutrient requirements for the next growing season.

On the lines of thinking about what is left in our soil profile, producers in drought environments need to be incredibly cognizant of herbicide application history. When you read the labels, it doesn't take long to realize that most of our herbicides need moisture to assist in the breakdown. Technically, biologicals are what actually break down herbicides, but without water, you have no biological activity. Reducing or eliminating crop damage due to residual herbicide must be front and center in the planning process for 2018.

There weren't many home runs in 2017, but there were many victories and more lessons to be learned. One key lesson learned is that it's not always the biggest yield that determines financial success or failure. Analyzing cost per unit of production for each cropping system, like rain, is essential to the success of any farm enterprise.

As I wrap up this month's article with ash settling on the lawn and the moon an eerie red, one can only imagine what next month will bring. Be safe and let the rains begin.