Will corn eventually have the capacity to grind out a 300 bu. per year average across the Corn Belt? Mike Kavanaugh, AgriGold agronomy manager, says it’s a matter of when, not if.
“I don’t think it will be by 2030, but it will happen sometime,” he told attendees of an Allendale, Inc. webinar on May 19. “If we continue the way we are, it could come in about 50 years. And if we start knocking down 5 bu. gains per year, we’re looking at 25 years.”
Hitting the 300 bu. milestone will require several things, Kavanaugh says.
“One key is certainly genetic improvements,” he says. “And of course, management practices. Look back [at the improvements] over the years with tile and with row configurations and with fertility practices and precision agriculture – it’s certainly taken us to another level. But if we want to get to 300, we’re going to have to figure out new ways to influence yield throughout the season.”
But no matter what a farmer’s yield target is, Kavanaugh has the same advice – control what you can control. He already sees an increasing number of farmers getting better about spoon-feeding the crop with nutrients, and paying more attention to micronutrients such as sulfur, magnesium and zinc – all critical to strong corn yields.
Farmers are generally more tempted this year to cut costs on certain inputs, such as selecting less expensive seed with fewer traits, giving up an extra seed treatment, or even switching to conventional seed and combat individual pest problems as they arrive. That’s a gamble that can pay off, he says, but it also introduces additional risk.
“There’s savings on the front end, but those savings could be out the window and then some,” he says. “People ask what they’re giving up – you’re giving up insurance, basically.”
Kavanaugh also looks closely at the biggest element farmers can’t control – weather. So far, the emergence of El Niño conditions and a mostly favorable summer forecast has him cautiously optimistic for 2015.
“The outlook looks really good,” he says. “Still there’s a lot of things that can happen. Fortunately, we’ve gotten off to a good start, but we’ve got three more quarters to go.”