At first glance, raising great crops looks almost impossible; Mother Nature is a powerful force.
Here are some of the challenges that farmers must face: The weather is often too cold, too wet, too hot, too dry, too windy, too sunny or too cloudy. You know that the average is just the number in between all the extremes we get each year, right? Even if the weather is perfect, farmers fight weeds, diseases, insects, nematodes and other pests that can damage or even destroy the crop. Despite all the control methods farmers use to stop these yield-robbers, they still have to face a number of soil issues, including poor drainage, compaction, excess sodium or magnesium, soil composition that is too light (sandy and usually too little organic matter) or too heavy (excess clay or organic matter), and of course, soil erosion, which is usually worse the greater the slope of the land.
I could continue these lists, but I think you get the point. Farming is challenging, and we haven’t even talked about commodity prices, land and equipment costs, labor, insurance, interest, and so many other factors that impact success and failure.
The title for this article is “How Can Farmers Beat Mother Nature?” The simple answer is, they can’t! However, by working in conjunction with Mother Nature, rolling with whatever challenges come up, and being prepared for what comes next, farmers continue to increase yields. Here are some of the ways they are doing this.
Spreading risk. Rather than planting the entire crop in one day, we always encourage farmers to spread planting dates
over a few weeks and plant both early and late-maturing crops. Along those same lines, we advise farmers to plant multiple seed varieties, because each variety responds differently based on all the environmental challenges the year will bring. As we drive through the field with our planter today, we can seed two different varieties, and each variety can be planted at different populations, higher or lower based on agronomic factors. By better matching up the crop density and variety to the area of the field we are seeding, we set ourselves up for better success.
Seed treatments. The corn we will plant on our farm this year will have 33 different products on it. Our soybeans will have even more than that. Twenty-five years ago, our corn and our soybean seed each had just one treatment. Many of the issues I listed previously mean that each seed a farmer places in the soil must run the gauntlet in terms of challenges. Today’s seed treatments help seed fight off pests and solubilize more nutrients to emerge quicker and healthier, which ultimately leads to higher yields.
Improving soil health. From reducing tillage to using cover crops, farmers are typically trying to increase soil organic matter if it is low, and they are working to increase beneficial microbial life in the soil. Other steps to a healthier soil include improving drainage, getting pH in the six range, having massive plant root systems which in part means ample and balanced soil fertility, and the use of manure or compost when possible.
Farming has never been more challenging. There are a lot of dollars at stake, and so much of what happens during the growing season is beyond the farmers’ control. Nevertheless,
by focusing on what can be controlled, farmers continue to do a fantastic job increasing yields and providing more healthy food. I say this often, but I don’t think it can be said enough: We need to thank the American farmer every day, because here in the U.S. we have the safest, most abundant and least expensive food supply in the world!