“How many people have a yield monitor on your combine, and how many of you map fields from your combine? Everything is about data. If you pull soil samples, then you have data. If you have a Veris machine and you’re checking your soil types to see if they’re susceptible to nematodes, then you have data. If you have tissue samples, you have data.

“Now you have to take the harvest maps and overlay it and find out where your weaknesses are. Is it something you can control, like nematodes? Is it compaction or nutrients? You have to have data to start making the best management decisions possible.” 

A producer must understand what the “minimum” is on their farm, says Dowdy.

Many farmers have heard of the Law of the Minimum or have seen the barrel examples that illustrate the Law of the Minimum concepts concerning nutrients. 

“The Law also should include agronomic practices, because quite often they are a grower’s minimum. Correcting variance will increase yields if it’s something that’s in your control, he says.

“I’m contour farming, so we have to control erosion. At a minimum, I’ll do 2.5-acre grids. It costs about $6.50 to $7 per acre, and more often than not, just the lime will pay for that. Don’t be cheap — you’d rather have the data. Don’t hope that a 5-acre grid is consistent.”

Dowdy pulls soil samples at the same time each year, behind the combine.

“When I sample in the fall, if I have a pH problem, I make sure I address it, and by the time spring rolls around, the lime source has had time to respond to the soil and change the pH. I correct nutrient and pH levels based on that soil sample. I sample at 6 to 8-inch depths, and I monitor the samples for variances from previous years.

“What use are your soil samples if you can’t tell if you’re increasing your soil fertility, building it up, depleting it, applying enough nutrients, or if your crop is requiring more than you’re applying?  Don’t just get your results and throw them on the dash or desk. Review them carefully. ”

Dowdy would prefer not to make foliar fertilizer applications. If tissue samples show a need, he feeds the roots.  “I only address with foliar as a last resort. I believe in feeding the plant via the roots and to constantly stimulate the plant to grow by spoon feeding the crop via fertigation.

“I want everything to be there before the plant tells me it needs it. And to do that, I pull tissue samples, about every 20 acres or so. Depending on the growth of the plant, I’ll take different leaves. I correct deficiencies either through an airplane — which I do very little of — or I do it through the center pivot. 

“I’m working with Agrium/Rainbow on a homogenized fertilizer, so I’m applying it early. It’s loaded with minor nutrients, and it’s kind of expensive, but it’s all used by the plant. Don’t get sticker shock — just understand that it’s part of the system. I did not have to make the minor applications this past year that I had to do in the previous year. I was willing to change something, and to do something different.”

When planting, Dowdy uses Poncho 1250 with Votivo as a seed treatment as insurance to address soil-borne insects and nematodes. Pentilex is another product he applies to the seed that has promoted emergence and increased early root development.