Scientists touring state to tackle farming issues
BLOOMINGTON – University of Illinois scientists who know farmers will plant more corn next year are touring the state to talk about that and other issues they face.
Agronomist Emerson Nafziger said farmers who plant corn in the same fields where it grew last year will have to add extra nitrogen and pay careful attention to managing residue. But he said that in his field trials, one fact emerged: Top hybrids, including those with stacked traits, will be the best performers in both continuous corn and rotated corn systems.
"The better hybrids in corn and soybeans will be the better hybrids in corn on corn," said Nafziger, who spoke Tuesday at the UI's Corn Soybean Classic at Bloomington, one of six stops the scientists will make on their circuit.
He said hybrids with inbred traits that make them resistant to rootworms or corn borers or both – the "stacked" traits – consistently turned out yields in the 200-bushel range in different rotation experiments.
Nafziger said farmers who want to take advantage of strong market prices and demand by growing more corn will have to analyze fields' potential.
If soils are average, he said, it might make sense to plant corn for two years to capture profits but follow that with soybeans the third year.
"Put continuous corn on your most productive fields, consider corn, corn and soybeans on average fields and put a corn and bean rotation on your least productive fields," Nafziger told about 250 farmers attending the meeting. "And remember, success equals more net income, not always higher yields."
The UI scientists armed meeting participants with instant feedback keyboards so they could collect information about their interests and planting intentions.
According to the data collected, 46 percent of the attendees were farmers and 41 percent were in agriculture professions.
Most of the farmers said that last year they planted 45 percent to 55 percent of their land in corn. Asked about their intentions this spring, 31 percent said they'd increase corn acreage by 5 percent to 10 percent and 21 percent said they'd increase it by up to 25 percent.
Six percent said they would increase it by more than 25 percent.
Farm management specialist Gary Schnitkey said farmers who grow more corn must balance that decision and potential profits with the fact that they'll face higher costs, more risks, timeliness issues and more storage demands at harvest.
But he said growing more corn makes economic sense.
"Corn prices have increased more relative to soybean prices," Schnitkey said. "With corn at $4, soybean prices have to be $10.40 to favor 50-50 rotation."
He said it costs $83 more to plant an acre of corn than an acre of soybeans so if an operator of a 1,500-acre farm switches from a 50-50 rotation to two-thirds corn and one-third soybeans, his operating costs will increase about $20,750.
Crop sciences department head Bob Hoeft urged farmers attending to meeting to scout their neighborhoods to identify promising young men and women interested in careers in crop science.
"There are tremendous opportunities for agronomists," Hoeft said.
"They're the best I've seen in my career. There are more jobs than we have graduates. We need to be recruiters, we need to do it one on one, but we need names."
He asked everyone to forward suggestions to the department so recruiters can contact promising high school students to talk to them about attending the UI and how to plan to take care of entrance issues like the foreign language requirement in high school.
The UI crop sciences department was recently named one of the top three in the country by Academic Analytics. The primary criteria for the rankings were publications and grant money awarded to the schools, which also included Cornell University and the University of Arizona.