Crop Tech

March 14, 2009 02:29 PM

Set Your Mark for Corn Yields

Have you set your corn yield goal for this spring? What do you think your fields will produce? What do you hope they will produce? Determining the realistic yield production of a field is the first step toward bin-busting yields.

Why are goals important?
Charles Shapiro, University of Nebraska–Lincoln Extension soils and nutrient management specialist, says setting a realistic yield goal helps farmers make better decisions on corn hybrids, seeding rates, fertilizer applications and irrigation needs. It also helps farmers push their production limits and profits.

In addition, Shapiro says, setting a challenging but realistic yield goal helps farmers in their nutrient management. By knowing what nutrients are needed, farmers can adjust applications as necessary. "You need to have the nutrients there so everything else can fall into place," he says.

Based on research by the University of Nebraska, Shapiro says, farmers can increase their operation's profit by closely estimating their yield goal. By decreasing a too-high yield goal or increasing a too-low goal, farmers can reduce unneeded nitrogen (N) and increase yields.

For example, Shapiro's research shows that farmers who decrease a yield goal that was 10 bu. per acre too high can earn an additional $7.50 per acre. When farmers increase yield goals that are 10 bu. per acre too low, they can earn an extra $42.50 per acre. This is assuming a corn price of $5 per bushel and N at 75¢ per pound.

What is a realistic goal?
To determine the best yield goal for your fields, Shapiro says, you need to calculate several factors, such as location, the length of the growing season and field history. "You look at the biological maximums, given the genetics available," he says. This is assuming there are nutrients and water available, he adds.

Farmers should understand the difference between a field's yield potential and its attainable yield, Shapiro says. The yield potential is determined by the amount of sunlight and the temperatures present during the growing season as well as crop characteristics. Basically, it's the level a crop can reach under the best conditions possible. The limiting factors, such as water and nutrient availability, determine the attainable yield.

"In well-managed irrigated corn, the attainable yield is close to the yield potential," Shapiro says.

Most farmers have a pretty good idea of what, on average, an individual field is capable of producing, Shapiro says. So he suggests taking the five-year average yield for a field, then adding 10%. "This should get you pretty close to a realistic yield goal," he says.

Your yield goals should gradually increase over time, Shapiro says, as farmers improve the problem areas that are present within their fields.

Volatile Times in the Fertilizer Industry

Fertilizer demand across the globe continues to escalate, says Ford West, president of the Fertilizer Institute, and increasing demand is causing major changes in the industry.
While the fertilizer industry remains unpredictable, West sees three major industry trends:


  • Buying in portions. "Retailers are going to layer their buying," he says. "They cannot afford the risk of going to July and trying to purchase all the material they think they're going to need for the spring. The risk is too great."
  • Evolving relationships. West says the relationship will change between dealers and farmers. "They [dealers] are going to ask you, if they haven't already, to sign a contract," he says. By doing this, dealers can confidently purchase fertilizer, knowing they will have guaranteed buyers.
  • Consolidation. "There will be further consolidation," West says. Since there is increased risk in all aspects of the fertilizer world, he says, some retailers will be pushed out of business.

In addition, the main consumers of fertilizer are also shifting. Currently, the top consumers of fertilizer are China, India and the U.S.

West says that India has just passed the U.S. in fertilizer consumption. "Fertilizer demand is now outside the United States," he says.

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