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Imagine, 429 bushels per acre of corn

People worried about future corn supplies need to look at the National Corn Growers’ annual yield contest. David Hula, Charles City, Va., had the highest overall yield of 429.02 bushels per acre in the No-Till/Strip-Till Irrigated category.
By Susanne Retka Schill | January 09, 2012

People worried about future corn supplies need to look at the National Corn Growers’ annual yield contest. David Hula, Charles City, Va., had the highest overall yield of 429.02 bushels per acre, winning first place in the No-Till/Strip-Till Irrigated category. Double ‘SA’ Farms Inc., Hart, Texas, had the second highest national yield of 370.38 bushels per acre in the Irrigated class and Randy Dowdy, Valdosta, Ga., had the third highest yield of 363.53 bushels per acre in the No-Till/Strip-Till Irrigated category.

Those are impressive numbers, even knowing that these small contest plots are intensely managed. They were all irrigated, which gives a bit of advantage since the growers probably timed fertigation to the optimal millisecond. But note that these three were all in the South, traditionally considered the worst area for corn production due to heat. One can’t fine-tune the weather (although farmers wish they could.)

Maybe a better look at the future of corn production is looking at the category where most corn is grown -- the non-irrigated AA category (presumably the Corn Belt) where the top three contest winners got yields of 322, 305 and 291 bushels per acre in Indiana and Ohio. Still impressive. Averaging all 18 winners (the top three yielders in six categories: irrigated and nonirrigated, conventional till and notill/ridge till, and in both A and AA regions), the average corn yield was 313 bushels per acre.

Now, contest winners are far from the average. It would be interesting, however, to study the data and see how the national average compares to those contest winners over time. The national average has been slowly creeping up, to a recent high around 165 bushels per acre. In recent years, the average might have been held down a bit, since much of the growth in corn acres has come on the far edges of the Corn Belt. Those areas traditionally grew little corn because the yields were so poor. But corn varieties are getting better, and at today’s prices, it doesn’t take much of a boost in yield to make corn a very attractive crop for farmers seeing input, machinery and land costs all going up. (If those corn yields don’t impress you, I’d suggest looking at the price tags on new tractors and combines – a quarter million bucks will take your breath away.)

There’s been a lot of concern from traditional corn users about the emergence of corn ethanol as a major player on the demand side. That was the point, of course. The ethanol industry was started by corn farmers wanting to create a market for their excess corn. Feeders don’t like the increase in corn prices we’ve seen since ethanol soaked up the corn surplus. But with contest yields like this – many well over twice that of the national average – how long will it be before we see corn surpluses again?

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