Each season brings its own set of weather, yields, markets, prices, and more. However, reviewing what occurred over many previous seasons can represent a glimpse at what may occur going forward.
For example, records of average reported total yields for many major vegetable and other crops spanning up to more than a century give interesting clues, suggestions, and questions about future yields.
The three panels below show that average reported total yields for various crops have risen steadily for decades, but at different rates among crops and locations. Much in vegetable growing, etc has changed in the last 40-100+ years. So, what may have contributed most significantly to yield increases during that time and support additional increases going forward?
Most agree yield increases have resulted from and will continue to hinge on improvements in crop genetics (varieties) and management. For example, today’s sweet corn plants are generally smaller and grown at higher densities and with improved inputs and care than in previous years. The article referenced below mentions further increases in sweet corn yield may result from developing varieties that tolerate even greater densities.
Indeed, most agree that we have not yet achieved the theoretical maximum yield of any crop and that better varieties and improved crop management are both possible and necessary. The overall goal is to constantly push observed yields (total, marketable) higher while maintaining or lowering costs and increasing income.
Take a few moments as the 2023 season gets underway to ask important questions about your historical and anticipated yields. For example, have total and marketable yields of crops you have grown for the most years increased steadily over that time? Why or why not? What yields do your draft balance sheets assume for 2023? Do you expect yields to be higher than in previous years? What new steps do you plan to take to ensure your yields and cost-efficiencies are as high as possible?
Many inputs and steps shape crop yield potential. Therefore, drawing clear, reliable connections between a specific practice or input and its impact on yield in nearly all situations is difficult. However, most agree that using high quality transplants is key to maximizing yield and income potential, regardless of the size, location, and other characteristics of the operation. In fact, some say using high quality seed and transplants is responsible for 20% or more of production potential. Regardless of the actual number for your farm, there are at least three reasons to consider using only high-quality transplants.
1. Biology. Most crop plants must pass through various stages before offering growers a chance to make money. Plants from weak seedlings may not reach the required stage, reach it at different times, or be weak or of low market value when reaching it.
2. Time. There are two types of races. One type tends to get all the attention while the other occurs out of public view on farms from the start of each growing season. The most common race asks how quickly a contestant can run, swim, bike, etc a fixed distance. Over time, contestants have worked to become faster. Crop production is an example of the second type of race. There, growers have fixed amounts of time and are challenged to produce as much as possible as efficiently as possible during it. Low quality seedlings do not obtain or use resources efficiently or maximally and this can contribute to slow, non-uniform growth, possible below-optimal plant populations, wasted money, and less yield. Plants from low quality seedlings are also more susceptible to stress and will be affected by it more severely and recover from it more slowly and/or incompletely.
3. Diseases and Pests. Diseases and pests spread. One diseased or infested seedling can allow many others to be affected and the spread of disease and insect pests may affect other farms. Also, disease incidence and severity often worsen. As more plants become infected, previously infected ones become weaker and weaker and may succumb before providing the grower with a return on their investment in the seedlings.
In 2023, in addition to using high quality transplants, identify a practice that may be preventing you from seeing valuable gains in yield and efficiency and work toward improving it.