Systems approach moving growers out of the yield rut.

A goal of 300-bushel-per-acre corn isn't that high because some agricultural researchers and even crop consultants are already convinced that the genetics are in place for 600 bushel per acre yields.

"Right now, we have the genetic potential to raise more than 600 bushels per acre corn," said Jerry Hatfield, director of the National Soil Tilth Laboratory, Ames, Iowa. What has to happen, according to Hatfield, is a coming together of everything involved in crop production so that the corn plants are raised through a system that perfectly addresses nutrients, genetics, soil, water and weather. That last one, weather, is the wild card of course, but determining better what to do under various weather conditions is key to obtaining the highest yields possible in any given year.

"We have to use the tools we have to dissect the yield, determine how the field ended up with problems and discover how to correct them," Hatfield said. There will be no blanket answers for all fields, and "blanket application is no longer viable" for treating fields with crop protection chemicals or nutrients, he noted.

One crop advisor in Illinois is an example of someone enthused about putting together what he calls a "systems approach" to help growers achieve much higher corn and soybean yields. He is starting with a 300-bushel goal and sees 600-bushel-per acre yields achievable in his lifetime. He also is correcting situations that most farmers don't even recognize as problems.

Brad Ramp's systems approach is mainly focusing on "giving crops the exact nutrients they need when they need it." It uses liquid fertilizer and micronutrients as its mainstays.

"Some growers are scared of this type of production system because it's outside the norm, but if you're expecting higher yields, you have to do something different," said Ramp, crop advisor at Bloomington, Ill., with Reeves Seed and Chemicals.

A couple of growers in the area have hit 300-bushel corn on a few fields and more will achieve similar success shortly, Ramp is convinced. He is just as excited about seeing farmers who were in a rut of 200-bushel-per-acre yields jump to more than 240 bushels per acre in 2008.
Ramp's process to develop a per-field system revolves around the Conklin AgroVantage product offerings. He makes the following recommendations for products and application timing.

Typical steps for a field being planted to corn include:
1) Grid sample soil test.
2) Gather all available information about the field (weed problems, drainage, crop rotation and yield history).
3) Establish a yield goal based on the field info, seed selection and optimum seeding rate.
4) Treat seed with seed emergence aid.
5) Determine a basic starter fertilizer formulation to apply at planting.
6) Determine an appropriate micronutrients package for in-furrow application.
7) Side-dress with nitrogen and other nutrients where necessary.
8) Follow-up by the time the corn is in the V3 stage with tissue testing.
9) Inspect the corn for any additional concerns that might justify a fungicide or insecticide application.
10) Apply the appropriate foliar feed fertilizer at the selected stage of corn growth at V3 and again at R3 (white blister stage), and include crop protection products if needed.

Basically, the system involves supporting a healthy plant at germination so it has vigor and in-row attention of continued nutrient needs. Ramp's goal is to maintain nitrogen in a plant-recoverable zone longer to maximize the nitrogen use and lessen overall environmental impact potential of leaching or volatilization.

"Increasing yields is number one, the next is cutting costs and third is trying to maximize seed potential," Ramp said.

Obviously, Ramp is convinced that providing a boost to the corn at planting is important and placing nutrients near the seed for quick uptake at germination sets the stage for 300-bushel corn or even 600-bushel-per-acre corn.

Article based on information provided by Conklin Company Inc.