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Corn after corn a continuous challenge for growers

Agriculture.com Staff 02/16/2006 @ 8:03am

Conventional wisdom suggests a corn crop be rotated with another crop. Some farmers are disregarding that sage advice, however, and producing high yields by growing corn in the same field year after year, said two Purdue University agricultural economists.

With corn demand expected to rise, in part because of increased ethanol production, more farmers could consider growing corn after corn -- a practice commonly referred to as "continuous" corn. There are risks and benefits for producers who choose to abandon rotating corn with soybeans, said Jess Lowenberg-DeBoer and Bruce Erickson.

Continuous corn growers should expect higher production costs and will need to produce larger-than-average yields to make the cropping practice worth their while, the economists said.

Lowenberg-DeBoer and Erickson analyzed the economic feasibility of continuous corn versus crop rotation. They found that a 3,000-acre farm in the Eastern Corn Belt with average rotational per-acre yields of 175.9 bushels for corn and 56.6 bushels for soybeans would have to produce at least 225 bushels an acre in continuous corn to meet those higher costs and still earn a profit.

Although several celebrated corn growers are producing continuous corn crops of 300 bushels an acre or more, university research has not shown a yield benefit from switching to long-term continuous corn, Lowenberg-DeBoer said. Field trials indicate growing soybeans after corn reduces disease and insect problems and provides easier management of crop residue.

"If we can show that long-term continuous corn works on a general basis, then we need to be able to show a substantially higher yield from long-term continuous corn to make it competitive with rotation soybeans," Lowenberg-DeBoer said. "It may need to be as much as 50 bushels an acre more to justify the continuous corn with higher fuel and nitrogen costs.

"If we want to talk specific numbers, then we're talking about maybe $30 an acre more in nitrogen. We also have extra costs in tillage. Fall tillage is a typical part of this system, so it might cost another $20 an acre or so. All of this adds up to -- for the high-yield continuous system -- costing somewhere between $80 and $100 more an acre."

The seed costs for many farmers raising continuous corn also tends to be a bit higher, said Erickson, who also is an agronomist.

Conventional wisdom suggests a corn crop be rotated with another crop. Some farmers are disregarding that sage advice, however, and producing high yields by growing corn in the same field year after year, said two Purdue University agricultural economists.

"They may want to plant a hybrid with particular traits that does especially well in corn on corn, while there's a broader selection in corn following soybeans," Erickson said.

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