If driving over crop rows a concern, then 'skip' it
As insect, disease and weed problems continue to increase for soybean producers during the growing season, so do the challenges of managing those problems while maintaining crop performance and yields.
Skip-row production — a familiar concept gaining momentum in Ohio — is a simple and profitable way for growers to manage those problems and still come away with a successful crop, said Jim Beuerlein, an Ohio State University Extension agronomist.
"The need for soybean growers to manage insects, weeds and diseases late in the growing season — like August — is increasing, as is the risk of damaging their crop," Beuerlein said. "Skip-row production allows the grower to enter the field and manage for those problems, while minimizing any damage to the plants."
Skip-row production is a form of controlled traffic — a method whereby all farm equipment is confined to specific paths and the remainder of the field is untouched. The idea behind skip row is to leave unplanted rows in the field at planting that would act as tram lines. In the event a grower would need to enter a field at any time during the growing season to spray for insects or weeds, plants would remain undamaged, eliminating worries of lost yield.
"Ten years ago, if a grower had to enter a field to apply a pesticide, he would just drive over his crop and he lost whatever he ran over," Beuerlein said. "Growers can't afford to lose yields, and skip row helps growers maintain their yields, while applying pesticides late in the growing season."
Beuerlein said that with skip-row production, yield loss is minimal because soybean plants alongside unplanted rows tend to compensate, helping growers maintain yields.
For example, leaving two rows unplanted with each pass of a 30-foot drill would cause a yield loss of five pounds per acre, which is worth 50 cents per acre. If the cost of seed per acre is $35, then the savings for not planting the two rows is $1.40, which more than offsets the yield loss from leaving skip rows. By comparison, running over two plant rows with a 60-foot sprayer in August will cause a yield loss of $7.80, if soybeans are selling for $7.50 per bushel.
Leaving two skip rows with a 30-foot-wide drill would increase profits by 90 cents per acre — $1.40 savings or not planting the two rows, minus 50 cents in yield loss for leaving the two rows unplanted. Therefore, using a skip-row system would generate $8.40 more income per acre than destroying two rows of crop.
"People think the concept is really complicated, and it's not," Beuerlein said. "They just have to make sure that the sprayer they use is one to five times the size of the planter, so when you make the tracks with the planter, you can go back into the field and drive on the same tracks with the sprayer."
Ohio State researchers use skip-row production in their soybean variety performance tests. "Every year there has been a need for us to get into our fields late in the season, and for the sake of data, we can't afford to have some plots damaged and others not," Beuerlein said.
About one in four fields will need some sort of herbicide or insecticide application in August, Beuerlein said.
"The skip-row system works," he said. "The equipment is easy to set up and there are no skips, no overlaps, no wasted material. If you need it, you'll benefit from it. If you don't need it, it doesn't cost you a thing. It's just good, high-quality management."
For more information on skip-row production, log on to Ohioline at http://ohioline.osu.edu/agf-fact/0131.html .