ST. LOUIS -- Every year, thousands of corn farmers around the country take part in the National Corn Growers Association's National Corn Yield Contest. In doing so, they provide reams of data on their farming practices, data that add up over the years to provide a good look at some yield-boosting techniques. And these techniques are setting the future of corn growing.

"The contest is a leading indicator of what the future holds for corn innovation and corn potential," said Dave Alley, a senior consultant for Informa Economics.

Reviewing this information that has accrued during the last 12 years of the yield contest, compared to available farming data from the National Agricultural Statistics Service, revealed some interesting trends, says Ken Eriksen, senior vice president for Informa Economics, a data analysis company.

"We didn't have any expectations going in, other than we knew yields were going higher," Eriksen said. What Informa found was that on many different areas, national Corn Yield Contest growers were ahead of the innovation curve.

"The highest determinant of good yield is how many plants you have per acre. We compared NASS data down to the county level as well as contest data, and over time, farmers in the contest are planting more seed and are getting more plants per acre," Eriksen says.

While the seeding rate has risen modestly over time, it has made a noticeable difference in yields, points out Alley. However, when Informa compared NASS state yield averages to the averages in the yield contest, it discovered a big-time lag between contest entrants and non-entrants.

"State averages are at least 10 years behind what's happening in the corn yield contest," Alley said.