December 7, 2011

Can Nebraska corn farmers continue to grow more with less?

Nebraska farmers aren’t just growing record amounts of corn. They are doing so on fewer acres—using less water, less energy and less fertilizer and chemicals.

In fact, the average yield for the 2011 corn harvest was 160 bushels per acre—a 32-bushel increase from just nine years earlier. How can that happen? It’s a combination of new ideas, innovation and just plain working smarter. (It's sustaining innovation!)

One way to work smarter is conservation tillage. “You don’t see many farmers using plows any more,” said Alan Tiemann, a farmer from Seward and chairman of the Nebraska Corn Board. “New tillage practices focus on disturbing the soil as little as possible. That cuts back on the number of trips across the field—saving fuel and reducing soil compaction.”

It also leaves residue, such as cornstalks, in the field to conserve soil moisture, reduce soil erosion, provide nutrients and reduce irrigation and fertilizer requirements.

New hybrids and genetic advancements have also led to corn seeds that simply grow better under a wide variety of conditions. By continually combining the best of the best, seed geneticists are increasing the yield potential of the seeds. Additionally, these seeds carry traits that resist pests and disease—and that not only leads to increased yields, but also helps farmers cut back on the amount of chemicals they use.

Tiemann also noted that farmers are more efficient then ever when it comes to water usage. “Corn sweats, which is known as transpiration, and Nebraska farmers are working with University of Nebraska researchers to measure just how much moisture a corn crop loses during a hot spell,” he said.

Soil moisture monitoring also helps farmers understand the true amount of moisture available to their crops. By knowing more, some farmers have cut back on the water they use without seriously affecting yield. That saves both water and fuel.

A modern tractor cab is a technological marvel. GPS systems keep tractors on line to eliminate overlaps in planting and fertilizer application while satellite mapping ensures farmers apply just the right amount of fertilizers and chemicals in just the right place.

“This allows farmers to vary planting rates and fertilizer application rates based on soil maps, yield maps and other data that streams into on-board computers,” Tiemann said. “It’s just another way we can grow more corn more efficiently.”

1 comment:

  1. Not only are they doing all of this on less ares, but they are doing it with inputs being at prices where even marginal errors can be the difference between a new pickup this year and bankruptcy.