David Hula captured top no-till yield honors in last fall’s National Corn Growers Association contest with a yield of 319.3 bushels per acre. While this Charles City, Va., no-tiller’s result was about double the current national average, 300 bushels is a yield some industry leaders are anticipating as being typical just 20 years from now.
With improved seed corn and more efficient use of other inputs over the next 20 years, Monsanto officials expect growers to reach the 300-bushel plateau with one-third fewer inputs.
This need for more corn is based on Food and Agriculture Organization projections that will require the world’s food supply to double by 2050 to feed an increasing population with an increased appetite for grains, meat and other products.
Besides the current yield boosts we’re seeing each year with biotech, new developments should have an even more dramatic impact on yields.
“Just with the use of the new SmartStax traits, we’re looking at a 5% to 10% improvement in corn yields for 2010,” says Troy Coziahr of the Monsanto Learning Center in Monmouth, Ill. “New seed treatments, more consistent and better rootworm control, a reduced refuge, new drought-tolerance genes and more efficient use of nitrogen will all play a key role. Just reducing the size of the refuge area should push up corn yields by at least 10 bushels per acre.”
Many of the key ingredients for a higher-yielding corn recipe are already in place, suggests Monsanto’s Michael Edgerton.
“David Hula’s results indicate corn yields can be doubled without large increases in yield potential, although significant improvements in major stress tolerances, water-use efficiency and dissemination of excellent practices will be required to approach Hula’s yield on a national acreage,” he says.
Even without any dramatic changes in the way corn is grown, Emerson Nafziger says the current upward trend line indicates Illinois growers should reach an average yield of 250 bushels per acre by 2030.
“A lot of people have seen 300 bushels register on their yield monitors, so it makes them think it’s possible,” says the University of Illinois crop specialist. “Not many have seen it in a whole field, but 300 is something that has a nice ring to it.”
Richard Robinson is aware of the Monsanto 300-bushel goal. Already, the Aledo, Ill., no-tiller is producing a bushel of corn with only 0.9 pounds of nitrogen in a 1,200-acre, corn-and-soybean rotation that’s been no-tilled since 1999. The 2030 goal calls for producing a bushel of corn with only 0.7 pounds of nitrogen.
No-till is paying off for us with no yield drag,” he says. “We started with a plant population of 24,000 in 1989, but are now at 35,000 plants in 30-inch rows and we’re going to keep going up on yields.”
Robinson says starter fertilizer has made a big difference with no-till. It provides a quicker start with corn and leads to higher yields in his colder soils. His no-tilled soybeans provide a 40-pound-per-acre nitrogen credit.
To get 300-bushel corn yields, Robinson says he’ll probably move to twin rows, apply more nitrogen, boost soil organic matter, band nutrients and go with higher plant populations. (See “Are Twin Rows The Corn System Of The Future?” on page 32.)
“The capability for higher yields is already here,” he says. “It just depends on how well you manage everything.”
If a national average of 300 bushels of corn per acre is to be reached by 2030, Terry Davis anticipates having to make many changes in the fields he’s been no-tilling for 25 years around Roseville, Ill.
“Some 20 years from now, I expect to be producing 400 to 450 bushels of corn per acre if we’re going to reach the 300-bushel national corn yield goal,” he says. “That means I’m going to have to rethink everything I currently know about corn and figure out how to double it.”
Davis says improved genetics will be critical, but so will improved soil quality and higher soil organic matter.
While Hula’s success in turning out several 300-bushel no-till corn yields in recent years may seem by many as only contest results, it may be the typical yield just 20 years from now