Recently, gas and diesel prices have sky-rocketed, which leaves less money at the end of the year in your pocket. Because of higher fuel costs, fertilizer costs have also increased dramatically — so much, in fact, that in 2006 we may see an acreage shift toward crops such as soybeans that need fewer inputs.

As we wrap up the 2005 growing season, it is appropriate to reflect on what (if anything) we could have done differently to increase profitability or yields. U.S. agriculture will remain profitable by using GMO products and less labor while producing higher yields. In light of stagnant commodity prices, this is a tall order, but it is being done by some and it can be done by others.

Here are a few suggestions that could improve efficiency, sustainability and profitability as you make decisions for the 2006 growing year.

• Marketing — The most profitable producers are some of the savviest marketers. Book portions of your crop when there is acceptable profit in the market.

• Land preparation — With fuel costs at an all-time highs, recreational tillage has become non-existent. With no-till or reduced-till fields, other problems can occur — such as insects overwintering in decaying vegetation. Working ground lightly now, bedding up in the fall (especially clay soils), applying an effective burndown in the spring and planting is becoming more popular. There are a number of advantages to this system.

What about flat vs. raised beds? This is an ongoing debate, but raised beds have an advantage from drainage and moisture retention standpoints.

• Fertility — All crops need adequate fertility to maximize yield potential. Without enough P, K and N (as well as others), the crop simply does not have the necessary ingredients for maximize yield. Under financial duress, this is an attractive area to skimp on, but it will cost you in the end when you put the combine in the field.

• Variety selection — If producers do not spend time selecting the proper varieties/hybrids in 2006 (regardless of the crop planted) and if economic conditions remain the same, it could be very serious for some involved in production agriculture. Proper variety/hybrid selection can mean the difference of 10 to 20 bushels per acre, which translates to a great deal of money at the end of the season.

• Planting date — Planting within the correct timeframe maximizes the emergence of a crop and reduces the chances of replants. Even if your seed costs are covered, your labor and expenses theoretically are not. Over the past two years, for example, corn yields in our demos across the state have been reduced by about 10 bushels per acre a week as planting date was delayed from the first week of March to the third week of March.

• Crop rotation — This is very difficult for many producers to do, but the benefits are positive and proven. If you cannot rotate the entire farm, rotating some fields would definitely be beneficial.

• Improved calibration — Proper calibration can save a great deal of money throughout the growing season by applying the right amount of pesticide to the crop.

• Proper and adequate scouting — Without having somebody in a field at least once a week, insects, diseases and weeds will be missed. This will reduce yield at the end of the season.

• Timely spraying — After a prescription has been given to spray for whatever pest you are going after, spray in a timely fashion. Waiting a week when insects are at threshold, disease is setting in or weeds are growing a half-inch a day can be detrimental to yield.

• Meeting attendance — Attending end-of-year and winter meetings will provide the latest commodity-based information possible.

• Accessing available information — Being able to access the latest information from your county agent, consultant, ag dealership or online will help in decision making.

All of these suggestions might seem minimal in the grand scheme of things; however, any or all of these suggestions could improve sustainability as well as profitability in 2006, which is the ultimate objective.

David Y. Lanclos is the soybean, corn and grain sorghum specialist at LSU AgCenter. e-mail: dlanclos@agcenter.lsu.edu