Sow and Grow

Spring planning is important

By Sara Bauder

South Dakota Extension forage field specialist

Posted 4/17/24

The March 31 South Dakota NASS crop progress report indicates that spring wheat planting was at 1% completion, near the 5-year average of 2%, and oats were at 10% planted, ahead of the 5-year average …

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Sow and Grow

Spring planning is important


The March 31 South Dakota NASS crop progress report indicates that spring wheat planting was at 1% completion, near the 5-year average of 2%, and oats were at 10% planted, ahead of the 5-year average of 2% by this date. In addition, winter wheat condition was reported as 5% very poor, 6% poor, 42% fair, and 46% good, and 1% excellent ( this likely reflects the dry fall winter many regions faced. While progress continues, many parts of the state are looking for moisture.

As it begins to warm up, considerations for a crop pest control and soil fertility plan come to life. One major factor that producer can control, is applied fertilizer needs. When helping producers determine what rate and mix fits their operation, I like to revisit the term “yield goal” as I often find that it’s meaning is widely misunderstood.

At face value, many think of “yield goal” as what we hope to see a crop produce this year. However, by technical definition, yield goal actually describes yield history, while taking into consideration potential for improvement. It is best to use 5-10 years of yield history when developing a yield goal. Outliers from years with abnormally low or high yields should be excluded; 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, or you can take your average yield factor times a range from 1.03 to 1.07 to account for increasing yield potential. However, adding to the average yield figure should be omitted during years when drought or other major crop stressors are confidently predicted. 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 likely appropriate.

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. This publication provides well-researched soil fertility guidance for all common South Dakota field crops in a user-friendly manner. To find a copy of the guide, visit and search “fertilizer recommendations guide”.

Herbicides should also be moving to the top of mind soon. Know your fields and the weeds that you expect to find in them. Of course, scouting is always necessary, but having an idea of what weeds to expect can help a great deal when trying to create or revise a herbicide plan.

When herbicides become more expensive, questions arise surrounding tillage. Although tillage may seem inexpensive, the fuel costs associated with each pass across the field make it less appealing. In addition, soil disturbance allows topsoil moisture to escape. It may be tempting for some to till fields in lieu of herbicide applications, but remember that no-till fields may lose much of their good soil resiliency when tilled, setting them back many years.

This would disrupt well-developed soil structure and high water infiltration that can help to capture and retain soil moisture during dry times. If you have interest in estimating costs of production, such as tillage costs, Iowa State University puts together a comprehensive document each year that you may find quite useful — visit here to learn more!

During dry times, pest control (specifically weed control) is more important than ever. Keep in mind that every weed out in your field is taking up moisture and competing with your cash crop. Good pest management plays a key role in reducing plant stress and preserving yield potential when other environmental issues are out of our control.

As the growing season begins, we look forward to working with you! Please be safe and enjoy the spring warm-up! Our weekly online Pest & Crop Newsletter will begin soon (sign up for free at, and several research projects and events are underway.