State corn harvest could be a monster

State corn harvest could be a monster

Crop sciences prof predicts yields that are double what some saw in 2013

URBANA — Some Illinois farmers will see yields topping 300 — even 400 — bushels of corn an acre this year, a University of Illinois crop sciences professor said.

While speaking to farmers and others Thursday at the University of Illinois Agronomy Day, Fred Below was asked whether corn growers in this area will see yields of 300 bushels or more.

"Yes," Below said. "My scouting of it shows some will see 400-bushel corn. There are really good corn yields, especially as you go north."

That would make this year's harvest not only a bumper crop, but a thumper crop, easily thumping past records for this area.

For a bit of perspective, last year — considered decent but not stellar — Champaign County had an average yield of 168 bushels an acre, while Vermilion County had an average of 117.

Premier Cooperative, which scouts fields in August to get some idea of yield, came up with an average estimate of 181 bushels an acre in its territory last year, with yields in the St. Joseph area estimated as high as 219.

Below said 400-bushel yields aren't unheard of, with the top five finishers in a National Corn Growers Association contest last year all breaking that barrier. But yields of that magnitude — even on small acreage — are rarely seen in Illinois.

Jim Kleiss, who farms south of Tolono, said he is conservatively estimating yields at 230 bushels and perhaps as high as 290, depending on kernel development.

"It's the best I've ever seen, I'm pretty sure the best in my lifetime," said the 32-year-old Kleiss. "I've never seen weather this good. We could use a little more heat to finish it off."

But Jason Boerngen, who farms east of Effingham, said his area didn't get the rains that some areas did. He guessed his yields will be somewhere between 120 and 200 bushels per acre.

"Kernel size will make all the difference in the world," he said.

Soybeans "look good," Kleiss said, but it's too early to guess yields.

Below, who has been researching ultrahigh yields in corn and soybeans, told farmers at Agronomy Day that seven factors spell the difference between standard and ultra-high yields in corn, with the biggest variable being the weather.

The other factors include soil fertility, the corn hybrid, the previous crop, how many plants are planted per acre, tillage methods and growth regulators.

Citing five years of field experiments, Below said that when "high-tech" prescriptions for each of the factors were followed, yields were, on average, 48 bushels higher than when standard practices were followed — 225 bushels an acre, rather than 177 bushels an acre.

The high-tech prescription called for planting 45,000 plants per acre instead of the standard 32,000 plants per acre, he said.

"A lot of you didn't plant enough seed to take advantage of this year's fantastic weather," he said, referring to abundant but well-spaced rainfall.

Ross Bender, a doctoral research assistant in crop sciences, told farmers about a "fertigation" system the university developed for 10 acres on its South Farms. The system involved installing 32 miles of pipe on that land, not only for irrigation but also for fertilization by injecting liquid fertilizer into the water.

The pipe was buried 14 to 18 inches deep, and the university used 30-inch spacing between pipes, though most farmers would use 60-inch spacing, Bender said. Water is emitted every two feet at the rate of a quarter-gallon per hour.

Bender said the cost of the system, including parts but excluding labor, was about $75,000. The usual cost for farmers would be $2,500 to $3,000 per acre, but having such a system could provide a huge yield boost for farmers, particularly in dry years, he said.

"Mice and other rodent problems are the biggest challenge," Bender said. But farmers can keep them at bay by keeping grass mowed around the edge of the field.

Years' yields
Average corn yields for Champaign and Vermilion counties, in bushels per acre:
Year Champaign Vermilion
2009 190 183
2010 170 166
2011 164 148
2012 109 100
2013 168 176

Source: National Agricultural Statistics Service

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