It's all about the yield!
By GARY BROCK
Will a time come when southern Ohio corn farmers see a yield of 300 bushels an acre? And not just as a fluke or exception but harvest after harvest?
It is not a question of if this will happen, but how soon, says Purdue University Agronomy professor Bob Nielsen.
Nielsen says that for Ohio farmers, it will be all about the yield, and what will happen in coming years to increase that yield to reach the “magic” 300 bushel an acre number.
In January, Nielsen and other agriculture experts held seminars in Fayette County to discuss the issue of crop yield and what can be done to increase it.
He said that obtaining a 300 bushel an acre yield is “doable” even today, pointing out that this has happened in “yield competitions” in the southeast where the winner has broken the 300 bushel mark.
But, for a normal harvest in a normal year, such a yield may happen in 30 years — or less.
“We have seen that when things change, advance, they happen much faster than expected. So the 30-year prediction may not happen. It could be sooner,” he said.
Nielsen said the “sooner” will depend on many things — and some of them are things the Ohio farmers can control, and some are things over which they have no control.
The biggest “no control” of course is the weather.
And that leads to the biggest challenge he sees for farmers — stress.
Not the stress on the farmers themselves (although that is very much an issue), but stress on the stalks of corn as they grow.
This stress comes from changes in the weather and “and all other factors that impact our yield,” he says.
“We need to identify and manage the yield-limiting factors that we DO have control over.”
He says that the best grain yield starts with four things the farmers can do:
1. Getting the stand off to a healthy start at knee-height early in the season;
2. Once the stand is healthy knee-high, then maintain it season-long;
3. Spend time in the field monitoring the crop; and
4. Pay attention to the details.
Regarding all the “technology and advancements in farming” Nielsen pointing out that in the history of corn growing there have really been just two major advances since 1866 — double-cross hybrid seeds in the 1930s and followed by the development of single-cross hybrids and other changes in the 1950s.
Those events caused a spike in corn yield every year. He said this third “miracle” will likely be biotechnology, genetic engineering and molecular breeding techniques that will boost the yield up to that magic 300 bushel range at some point in the future.
But for today, Nielsen says that what corn growers should not do is wait for that “third miracle” of technology to suddenly boost corn yield. “Maybe what is a realistic goal for most of us is to strive to improve our ability to grow pretty good corn more consistently year in and year out,” he said.
That alone will help boost yield.
“Consistency is the key, he says. And the enemy of consistent growing is — weather, and the stress weather puts on crops. Regardless of how we feel about global warming, Nielsen says there is no doubt that “our climate is changing, and there is more extreme weather.”
He said there are yield influencing factors that farmers can control to help increase production. One factor is seed hybrid selection. “It is important to select a hybrid that will do good every year, with a wide range of tolerance every year,” he said,.
How does a corn grower select the best hybrid? Nielsen said for farmers to check and evaluate a variety of trial results from a number of locations and sources.
“Choose hybrids whose yields are at least 90% that of the highest yielding hybrids in almost every variety trial you can find,” he said. And don’t count on anyone else to tell you what is best, he added — check the results yourself.
He also pointed out that tillage (vertical or no-till for example); types of fertilizer and when to use; crop rotation; nitrogen management and of course, disease and insect management also play major roles in crop yield.
“It’s not rocket science,” he said. Just identify and target the yield issues and manage them.
And 300 bushels an acre may not be far away.
(Gary Brock is editor of ACRES of Southwest Ohio.)