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Getting to 300 per bushels per acre

Posted Tuesday, January 3, 2012, at 10:35 AM

The world population is expected to reach 9 billion people by possibly 2030. In order to feed this population it is predicted that corn will need to average 300 bushel per acre to feed them.

Over the last 55 years, the average rate of increase in corn yield has been 1.9 bushels per acre.

At that rate, U.S. corn growers should be able to reach the average yield by about 2086. To reach 300 bushel per acre by 2030 would require a rate of annual yield increase of 7.5 bushels per year for the next 19 years.

A yield of 300 bushels per acre and over is being reached by individual growers today; however the expected average yield nationwide in 2011 is about 146 bushels per acre.

The physiological yield components necessary to produce 300 bushels per acre are not too far out of reach today. Potential ear size is easily 1,000 kernels with today's hybrids, and with a harvest population of 30,000 plants per acre and a kernel weight at 85,000 kernels per 56-pound bushel, you would produce 356 bushels per acre. If some farmers are already producing 300 bushels per acre and more today, what can other growers do to push their yield into that range?

Bob Neilson, Extension corn specialist at Purdue, discussed yield influencing factors. Neilson stated that once the seed is planted, the crop is subjected to a season-long array of yield-influencing factors, most of which are stresses that reduce yield potential.

The key to improving yields put simply is to sharpen your focus on identifying the yield influencing factors "specific" to your farm. There are no "silver bullets" or "one-size-fits-all" solutions. Following are "yield influencing factors":

1.Field drainage -- The adequacy of field drainage greatly influences whether corn will produce 200 bushel plus yield or nothing or somewhere in between.
2.Supplemental water -- Fields with soils that dry out too quickly will respond to supplemental water.
3.Hybrid selection -- Identify hybrids that not only have good yield potential, but that also tolerate a wide range of growing conditions. Evaluate hybrid performance across a lot of locations.
4.Manage trash in no-till -- Enables drying/warming of surface soils, facilitates effective planter operation and improves crop emergence/stand establishment.
5.Avoid soil compaction -- soil compaction can limit root development and thus nutrient and water uptake.
6.Continuous corn or not -- Continuous corn does not yield as well as rotation corn.
7.Nitrogen management -- Efficient use of nitrogen includes avoiding fall nitrogen applications, avoiding surface applications of urea-based fertilizers without incorporation and adopting sidedress nitrogen application programs.
8.Disease management -- Warm, humid conditions during the summer months are conducive for the development of several important foliar fungal diseases. Managing these diseases gives the plant a greater potential to produce.

Nielson summarized that more consistent yields do not require "rocket science" but a lot of common sense agronomic principles that work together to minimize the usual crop stresses that occur every year and allow the crop to better tolerate uncontrollable weather stresses. Corn has its highest yield potential on the day it is planted. Everything that happens after that will determine how much yield potential is preserved.

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As our local University of Missouri Agronomy Extension Specialist, Crook has been writing a column for the print edition Agriculture page for the past three years and we will now be sharing it on our web version. Crook has a bachelor and masters degree in agronomy from University of Missouri and received his doctorate in Agronomy from Kansas State University. He was in soybean variety development research for 22 years for various seed companies and has been Saline County's agronomy specialist for 10 years.
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