Whether it’s over a cup of coffee in December or back in the combine at harvest, yield is on the producer’s mind. In the spring, goals are set, plans are made, and crops are planted. Although plans are carefully drawn, we never know what might happen during a given growing season. Having measurable, specific goals for your business is always a good idea, and one of the most important goals is maximizing yields.
Defining Yield Goal
At face value, many think of ‘yield goal’ as what we hope to see the crop produce this year. However, by technical definition, yield goal actually describes yield history, while taking into consideration potential for improvement. According to the South Dakota Corn Best Management Practices, it is recommended to consider yield history of 10 years or less when developing a yield goal. Outliers from years with abnormally low or high yields should be excluded, and being realistic, yet optimistic is always important.
Some sources suggest adding an additional 5-10% above your average yield history to account for improvements in production from year to year. It is also common practice to create yield goal values for fields or groups of fields with similar soil properties and topography within a farm. If one field varies quite significantly in soil physical properties from its neighboring fields, calculating separate yield goals is crucial, however if the fence line seems to be the only major difference, an average across fields is most likely appropriate.
Using Yield Goals
Many decisions are made based upon yield goal; fertilizer applications being one of the most important. The South Dakota Fertilizer Recommendations Guide was developed with yield goal in mind, making proper yield goal calculations even more important. For example, corn nitrogen recommendations are calculated by taking: (1.2 x yield goal - soil test N - legume credit). If producers or agronomists misinterpret the meaning of yield goal when calculating N needs, over application of nitrogen fertilizer may happen, causing environmental and economic risks. This scenario could happen with any nutrient calculation based upon yield goal.
Taking Time for Records
Keeping records on your farm and taking the time during these cold winter months to sit down and calculate a yield goal for next year could pay off significantly in the long run. A good time to update field yield goals is when you report production for crop insurance purposes. For more information about yield goal calculations or nutrient recommendations see the South Dakota Corn Best Management Practices guide or the South Dakota Fertilizer Recommendations Guide, or contact Sara Berg.