Traveling through parts of Wisconsin during the holiday weekend, I took note of the height and health of crops I passed along the highway.

Most looked to be thriving and it got me thinking about the expectations farmers may have for this year’s cash crops, coming off a record 2016 for many  — at least in terms of yields.

It will especially be interesting to see if corn yields continue to climb, as was the case in our 2017 Strip-Till Operational Benchmark Study, analyzing 2016 cropping practices. Strip-tilled corn yields averaged 199 bushels per acre, an 8-bushel bump over the prior 2 years of benchmark data.

But as Dr. Jerry Hatfield, Dr. notes in our latest Strip-Till Farmer podcast, strip-tillers need to consider that the true measurement of efficiency isn’t yield, but profit.

Farmers are often willing to brag about yields, but more reluctant to discuss profits among their peers, notes Hatfield, who runs the National Laboratory for Agriculture and the Environment at the USDA-Agricultural Research Service facility in Ames, Iowa.

One discussion that should be taking place among strip-tillers is about soil degradation, says Hatfield, who’s done extensive research on the interactions within the soil-plant-atmosphere spectrum and their connection to air, water and soil quality.

Hatfield’s recent analysis examined the correlation between early-season nutrient applications on plant health in strip-tilled corn and its impact on yields. Hatfield concluded that farmers need to rethink their approach to soil degradation.

“We underestimate degradation, and we think if we apply more nitrogen (N) or other nutrients or till the soil more, all of our issues will be over. But that’s not what happens,” Hatfield says. “Yield isn’t necessarily the measure of how efficient our systems are. Profit is the ultimate measure of efficiency.”