“The only reason for time is so that everything doesn’t happen at once.”—Albert Einstein
Between Christmas and New Years Day my family and I embarked on an 11-hour trek to the in-law’s Missouri estate. This was done in an effort to reacquaint our kids with their grandparents and keep the parents listed in the will. Such a drive always affords me a lot of time for thinking, which often throws the rest of the family into panic mode because of the possibility these intellectual thoughts might be openly shared.
Somewhere south of Springfield, IL I noticed a tractor in a field applying nitrogen for next year’s crop. I questioned the practice and this triggered my mind toward the whole concept of timing and its importance in both life and growing a crop.
So much of the success or failure in our personal or professional lives is strictly a function of timing. Good timing can be the residue of hard work, experience, preparedness, knowledge, or education. Often we like to take credit for good timing when really it was simply the result of pure luck. Conversely, sometimes poor timing is the result of factors beyond our control, or bad luck.
Growing a crop encompasses the ultimate lessons in timing. Good and poor timing often cost the same in terms of dollars but the outcomes can be dramatically different in terms of crop yield, quality, or profit. For example, the dollar outlay for cutting hay on May 20th is essentially the same as cutting on June 10th. During that 21 day time period, harvested yield will increase by nearly one ton per acre and relative forage quality will decline by nearly 80 points. Spreading costs on a high-yielding, high-quality crop is much more desirable than spreading the SAME costs over a low-yielding or inferior quality crop.
“Timing has a lot to do with the outcome of a rain dance” —Cowboy Proverb
Unlike seed, fertilizer, or machinery, timing is not a sold commodity; yet the impact on profitability may be much greater. WHEN you plant Hybrid X or Hybrid Y is often just as important as IF you plant Hybrid X or Hybrid Y. Early planting doesn’t insure a bin-busting yield, but late-planting always insures, at best, an average yield. Further, corn planted early with a pink tractor will nearly always yield more than corn planted late with a purple tractor. How much more? On average, there is a 13 percent yield reduction between May 1st and May 20th.
Just as with harvesting hay or planting corn, the timeliness of weed control has a profound impact on final yield. The measure of weed control success is often evaluated by IF weeds are controlled, when in fact the more appropriate measure should be WHEN weeds are controlled. Yield reductions begin at the point when weeds reach a four-inch height. Recent Wisconsin research has demonstrated corn yield reductions of 6 to 8 percent when weeds were controlled at a twelve-inch height compared to the recommended four inches (a span of only eight days!).
The examples of good timing and bad timing are endless. Admittedly, good timing in crop production is sometimes dictated by weather. Even so, most timing decisions are controllable. There are few crop decisions made on a farm that will impact profit margins to a greater degree than those centered on timing. This is especially true in years when margins have the potential to be tight. Be ready.
“The two most important requirements for major success are: first, being in the right place at the right time, and second, doing something about it”—Ray Kroc
Mike Rankin, Crops and Soils Agent, UW Extension-Fond du Lac County