Innovation Plot showcases wonders of corn world

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Farm Forum

“Farmers face a heroic crusade to save the world,” Dr. Fred Below, Professor of Plant Physiology at the University of Illinois told those at the Innovation Plot tour on Tuesday. “You are called on to double grain production in the next 20 years.”

Known as an expert in agricultural circles, Below said that means instead of the normal average yield of 150 bushels/acre for corn, farmers are looking at producing 300 bushels per acre. And instead of yielding an average of 42 bushels/acre for soybeans, now farmers need to reach 85 bushels/acre.

Below spoke at the “Back to the Basics” event, held at the Wheat Growers Innovation Plot north of the Bath fertilizer plant.

As farmers are near the end of this year’s growing season, those gathered at the Innovation Plot tours appeared eager to meet those challenges and listened closely to the information presented on improving farming techniques.

“Every year there is someone out there who raises 300 bushel corn,” Below said. “The corn yield contests show that there was even a farmer in Charles City, Va., who raised 454 bushels per acre in 2013.”

“I don’t think you’re trying hard enough,” Below said in a teasing tone. On a more serious note, he added that there is a serious gap between the potential of the seed and what the average yield is per seed.

“We have to use intelligent intensification and fine precision planting products, in the right way and at the right time,” he said.

Below went on to delineate which factors will have the biggest impacts, indicating items that could result in the biggest bushel bumps.

Weather is the number one variable and the one that farmers can control the least. Farmers want to plant as early as possible, but cold rainy weather can cause problems with emergence.

“We have one shot to get the corn seed out of the ground and get it done right,” Below said. That’s why it’s essential that farmers choose the right hybrid, decide how much nitrogen to use and what plant population needs to be planted.

Observers noting corn fields with patches of yellow leaves are witnessing areas where nitrogen, essential for growth, has leached from the soil and can impact the potential yield. Getting that nutrient to the plant at the right time in the right amount can make a huge difference in yields.

With increasing choices, it’s harder and harder to make hybrid selections. The seeds are not all created equal. Below said that some use emotion rather than intelligence, when choosing to buy seed from a cousin or an old friend rather than looking at the attributes. The varieties can vary 50 bushels from the highest to lowest. And if weather doesn’t cooperate, the variation can be even worse. With the swing in yields, that can be a $500 per acre mistake.

“This is the most important decision farmers make every year,” Below said.

The crop grown the year before is another important element, followed by the plant population and the spacing of rows.

The final two points are the tillage use and growth regulators.

Below said to pay close attention to the amount of nutrients that are removed from the soil by the grain at harvest time and understand what is returned through chemical applications. “The plants have to lead right out of the ground, so all the variables to provide for uniform growth need to be there in the very beginning,” he said. Factors influencing that growth are the fertility, nitrogen, hybrid selection, population and fungicide.

Those attending were encouraged to take a look at the areas of the field plot to see the results from different techniques. Other speakers at the event were Jeff Fuls of Monsanto, Troy McKown of Winfield and Brad Ruden of Wheat Growers. They showed plots representing the impact on planting different seed populations, the importance of seed placement in the furrow, the depth of corn roots shown under different circumstances in a root pit and the impacts of planting mistakes on corn plants and yield effects.

6 secrets for soybeans

Below also shared six secrets for better soybean yields.

Like corn, weather is the number one factor in yield for soybeans. Beans like wet conditions in July to fill the pods.

Below noted that most don’t fertilize soybeans, believing that there is credit for nitrogen by growing the beans. Each crop removes 60 lbs. of nitrogen from the soil. The higher the yield level, the higher the level of nitrogen loss will be.

Some say beans need potassium, but really they need phosphate, according to Below. The potassium ends up in the stover.

Jon Locken of Bath was one of those who asked a question of Dr. Below about fertilizing soybeans. “What if you end up with white mold when you add fertilizer, what should you do?”

“That means you’re doing a good job,” Below replied, “The presence of the mold means that there is good nutrition. At that point, you’d need to increase spacing to provide more air movement.”

Joe Locken, 23, started farming this year and was impressed with the presentation. “It was very well done and provided a lot of information.”

Below urged producers to pay attention to genetics. While many agonize over corn varieties, many choose any soybean type. Just using a different type of bean can mean a 12-bushel per acre increase. With beans, that’s a pretty big increase.

Foliar protection is important. Most of the pods are in the middle section of the plant, on nodes 7 through 13. Below said to protect those leaves. If you get 6 more pods per plant, that can mean 12 more bushels per acre.

He said to be sure to use a seed treatments as they help with emergence and early growth.

A lot of research has looked at row arrangement. Below predicts that the future of corn is to use rows spaced 20 inches apart, and he thinks it will be the same with beans.

Growers are invited to stop by the Innovation Plot to see the results of the different types of practices in these sample areas.