"Yields of 300 bushel per acre of corn, 150 bushel per acre of wheat and 100 bushel per acre of soybeans sounds pretty high. While others think it's not high enough, so my goal is to help each farmer achieve higher yields than they have before," said Tom Doerge, John Deere corporate agronomist. "The whole point of farming is to increase yields and be profitable."
Doerge spoke at the 2012 Precision Ag Conference on March 27, in Sioux Falls, SD, where he focused on changes in South Dakota farming, high-yield practices to implement and how to move up the yield curve.
Since 1879, corn yields in South Dakota have increased by 78 percent, according to Doerge. Meanwhile, wheat-yield trends have increased 20 percent and soybeans by 37 percent. As yields move up, so have grain prices. Average prices for corn have increased 162 percent, beans by 108 percent and wheat by 157 percent.
"This is perfect - yields are going up and so are prices, but what else has also increased?" he asked. "Increasing input costs have added challenges for farmers. Since 2000, costs have more than doubled. Agriculture is a high risk and high reward business."
Of course, success in farming depends largely on the weather. The U.S. drought monitor is predicting drought in many regions for the 2012 growing season.
"Farming isn't easy, but we must manage our yield proactively by planning for a high yield and reactively by managing the risks," he stressed. "High yields are certainly possible in South Dakota."
So, how can farmers achieve high-yields for corn? Doerge lists his top 13 tips:
1) Use a superior hybrid; 2) Provide early-season nitrogen; 3) Achieve desired population; 4) Optimize the planter operation; 5) Scout for problems; 6) Ensure adequate drainage; 7) Rotate crops on each field; 8) Harvest, handle and store carefully for high yields; 9) Manage residue for maximum benefits; 10) Minimize compaction; 11) Control herbicide-resistant weeds; 12) Provide adequate nutrients for stress-free growing season; 13) Apply nitrogen side-dressed before V7.
When looking at wheat, the critical factors that affect yield are similar.
"The most important factors is choosing an adapted variety, but also consider timely planting, adequate stands and fertility and control insects and disease. The flag leaf and ear contributes 65 percent of total yield, so make sure you are taking action to protect those," he advised.
To achieve 100 bushel per acre of soybeans, Doerge offered specific practices to implement. Critical factors affecting yield can best be studied by looking at the practices of Kip Cullers, who has the world record for 160 bushel per acre of soybean-yield in 2010; Doerge shared Cullers' practices.
"Kip had excellent soil; he applied ten seed treatments and planted in twin rows by May 10," he explained. "He controlled plant height and lodging, provided ample nutrients from poultry litter, managed plant health through fungicides, irrigated daily and monitored foliar micronutrients. In the first year, he set his first record at 139 bushel per acre, and he had never even planted soybeans before. He started growing beans to improve his corn yields the following year and quickly improved his yields by 20 bushel per acre to beat his old world record."
Moving up the yield curve can be a challenge, with many factors to consider.
"Expect yield trends to climb because of new transgenic's traits and plant breeding, with drought tolerant seeds to be a focus," he concluded. "Enhanced technology through accurate precision agriculture will also help improve yields. Increasing government regulations related to air and water quality will also play a role; be less worry about which practices you will be allowed to do and be more worried about who is deciding which waterways are impaired, as they will impact the nutrients you can apply to your field. Farm consolidation will also create challenges as farmers work to get the planting and harvest done in a timely manner. Climate change might also have an impact."
To move up the yield curve, Doerge recommends producers always remain open to new practices, use on-farm testing, identify and adopt effective practices, match nutrient availability to crop needs, look for new ways to manage water and investigate management zone farming by landscape zones and crop sensors.
"The question is not are you able to achieve higher yields, but are you ready?" asked Doerge.