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Think you can hit 300?

03/06/2014 @ 3:10pm

The number 300 conjures up a great major-league baseball batting average or a perfect bowling game. It’s also the goal several agricultural companies have launched for eventual average corn yields.

“Contest-winning growers have regularly harvested 300 bushels per acre on small areas of land,” says Bob Nielsen, Purdue University Extension agronomist. “When you look at the corn plant itself, 300-bushel yields are still within reach.”

Early in the pollination process, it’s common for an ear to have 800 ovules – 16 across the cob and 50 ovules down the length.

“If you retain that potential, you can grow 300-bushel corn. You just have to figure out how to retain the 800 kernels per cob,” says Nielsen.

A key in hitting the 300-bushel goal is a uniform crop canopy that intercepts 95% of solar radiation during flowering and grain-filling.

That’s a lot harder than it sounds. First, you’re farming under more volatile weather than in past years. Ever notice how drought one year – such as in 2012 – is flanked by soaking springs like that in 2013?

“The effects of unpredictable and extreme weather are often amplified by the existence of other yield-limiting factors,” says Nielsen. “Once you plant the seed, it’s exposed to everything under the sun.” Nutrient deficiencies, acidic soils, pests, and other maladies all dent yield potential.

So how do you boost your yields? Here are four ideas.

1. Identify yield-limiting factors.
Do you have drainage, soil compaction, or weed issues? Correctly identifying such factors and resolving them is needed to crack yield barriers.

Poor drainage is often a problem in Indiana, where one half of the fields are not tiled, Nielsen says.

“Often, we receive too much rainfall early in the spring,” says Nielsen. “Saturated soils are common. They lead to compaction, leaching of N (coarse soils), denitrification (heavy soils), poor root systems, and uneven stand establishment.”

2. Focus on details.
There are farmers who pay attention to every step along the way and document everything, says Nielsen.

Identifying the best hybrid on the appropriate field is crucial. Any company will tell you to stop by its booth at farm shows and pick its best hybrids from its sales force.
In reality, it’s a lot harder than that. Picking a hybrid with good yield potential that tolerates lots of stress is key.

“You never know if it will be cold or dry,” says Nielsen.

3. Hone agronomic skills, or hire people with them.
This enhances wise agronomic decisions. “You have to learn about what is going on by spending time in your field,” says Nielsen.

Modern technology can aid you in scouting. There are lots of apps that will help you identify insects and diseases in your field. Some technology teams up with GPS so you can map problem areas and record observations electronically.

4. Make sure your solutions solve your problems.
If you suspect your field is infested with harmful corn nematodes, for example, first make sure they are present at economic threshold levels through a soil test before treating them.

“A lot of people are ready to sell you a solution,” he says. “Make sure you first have the problem.”

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