by Elizabeth A. Tomlin
Sultry weather did not deter a large turnout for the 2018 New York Corn and Soybean Growers Association (NYCSGA) Ready, Set, Grow! Summer Crop Tour hosted by Merrimac Farms, Inc, Mt. Morris, NY.
“We were very pleased with the 2018 Summer Crop Tour this year,” commented Colleen Klein, Executive Director, NYCSGA. “Attendance was up from last year. I am starting to see younger farmers joining the audience which is really encouraging.”
Keynote speaker Dr. Fred E. Below, Professor of Crop Physiology, Dept. of Crop Sciences, University of Illinois, proved to be a dynamic speaker, not only providing facts and statistics but also providing much laughter with his off-the-cuff humor in a perfect combination, keeping attendees interested and alert.
Below reported that a world record of corn yield at just over 542 bu/acre was set in 2017 in Virginia, while the average yield was 177 bu/acre for 2017 across the U.S., NYS yield was 161 bu/acre.
He credits seven components as being crucial for high corn yield and says “Intelligent Intensification with the Seven Wonders of the Corn Yield World” will produce higher yields.
“Number 1” on the list of seven is something that no one has any control over; weather.
“Early planting is not one of the seven wonders of corn yield world,” said Below, “because it is completely determined by the weather. It’s the weather after you plant that dictates the success of the planting date.”
“Even with the other yield wonders optimized and constant, our research shows a 70-plus bushel variation in grain yield due to weather. Weather reacts strongly with other yield wonders, and all farmers realize weather can circumvent their best management plans.”
Nitrogen (N) fertilization is the ‘2nd Wonder’ of corn yield, and is especially impacted by the weather.
“You cannot have weather induced nitrogen loss and grow high yields,” Below explained.
Number 3 on the list is hybrid selection, which is impacted by N.
“There’s considerable interest in improving the efficiency of nitrogen use with genetics or biotechnology,” Below said. “Hybrid selection is probably the most important decision farmers make. Most don’t realize the large difference in yield potential among elite commercial hybrids.”
Hybrids planted in optimal conditions for specific soil/ temperatures and other environmental conditions, can show 50 bu/acre grain yield. Drought tolerance and improved N use is being genetically improved in hybrids.
Number 4 on the list of corn yield considers what the previous crop was.
Continuous corn on acreage may decrease 25 bu/acre yield, while adding higher input costs, especially in N.
“Previous crop clearly interacts with the first and second wonders. If sufficient nitrogen is available in a good growing year, the continuous-corn yield penalty can be reduced or eliminated. While it makes sense that some hybrids might perform better than others under continuous corn, our research has not shown this. We find the best hybrid on a farmer’s rotated land is also the best one for continuous-corn ground.” Corn/soybean rotation shows a higher yield.
Number 5 on the list is plant population.
Below said higher yields can be found in narrow, more highly populated rows.
“The future of corn has to be in narrow rows,” he emphasized.
Tillage brings up number 6 on the list and growth regulators/ chemicals are number 7.
Below noted that misuse of growth regulators can actually decrease yields and cause serious ear abnormalities. “You can decrease yields if you’re not careful.”
Optimize yields by providing better prerequisites, season-long weed control and balanced fertility/nutrition. Below emphasized feeding the plants, not the soil. Corn root systems do not expand out into the rows, but grow deeper, so keep fertilizer close to the plant.
Soybeans were also discussed by Dr. Below, with a list of “Six Secrets”, which he said are not really secret. These are similar to the seven wonder of corn in the principals applied. These include weather, soil fertility, variety, fungicide, seed treatments and row spacing.
Below said he learns a lot from talking to growers from other areas.
“When you go somewhere else and you see how they produce the crop, what their problems and issues are, then you pick up nuggets of information and knowledge. So you learn a lot more by going somewhere else and talking to growers.”
Klein said growers who attend these events are looking to improve crops, whether they are beginning farmers or veteran farmers.
“The combination of great weather, location and energy from Dr. Fred Below made for a great day of learning and comradery — which is exactly what we aim for,” remarked Klein.