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60 Ways Farmers Can Protect  Surface Water
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26. Set Realistic Yield Goals

Grain dumping into a truck

Because soil tests for nitrogen are not entirely reliable, nitrogen application recommendations are based on yield goals. If your yield goals are overly optimistic, the recommended application rates for N will be high. The result: increased expense, increased levels of nitrogen in the soil, and increased risk to surface water and groundwater.

To set realistic yield goals, recognize that exceptionally good years are the exception. Establish realistic yield estimates for each field based on soil type, your own three- to five-year yield records, county average yields, and yields on neighboring farms. When figuring the average yield on a field, do not count years of abnormally low yields that resulted from weather-related conditions.

soybeans pouring into a truck Set your yield goal 5 to 10 percent above your average yield of the past five years. That way, if it's a good year, the crop will have enough nutrients to become a bumper crop. If it's an off year, the amount of excess nitrogen in the soil will be kept to a minimum.
farmer useing a high-tech sytem High-tech systems offer the promise of greater precision in setting yield goals. Yield monitors estimate grain flow into the combine every 1 to 3 seconds. This data can then be merged with information from a global positioning system (GPS) unit, which pinpoints the combine's precise location on the field. The result is an accurate yield map for each field.

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