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Better then predicted corn yields for 2021

Corn yields exceeded projections in 2021. (Quad City Times file photo)

“The numbers for both Iowa and southeast Iowa corn yields for 2021 are looking at low 203 bushels per acre,” said Jerry Anderson, Farm Bureau Regional Manager for Washington County. “The numbers for 2021 were better than predicted, by about seven to eight bushels per acre.”

“What farmers are finding out this past year is that if you got out and planted earlier, the better,” said Anderson. “This really works out with the weather. Because you time out the pollination period before we hit a dry spell, and the temperatures when the corn is pollinating mid-summer.”

“The first allowable planting date for crop insurance purposes is April 11,” said Virgil Schmitt, Extension Field Agronomist Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, Muscatine County. “The data is clear that planting as soon after that date is possible, given that soil conditions are appropriate, the higher the yields tend to be. Early planting allows the planting of hybrids that take longer to mature, and hybrids that take longer to mature tend to yield more. Secondly, early planting increases the likelihood that pollination will be complete before we hit the most stressful time of year weather-wise (The Dog Days of Summer). Heat and or moisture stress at pollination time can destroy the synchrony between pollen shed and silk emergence, resulting in poor pollination and fewer kernels per ear.”

Weather has an effect on the overall volume that is produced. “The main thing is the lack of water, or the availability of water and high temperatures during the pollination period. That week in July, when the corn is pollinating is extremely critical and one never knows what that combination is going to be,” said Anderson. “But with the varieties, that the seed companies are developing, they are providing a little more tolerance. The genetics of what is being developed is really helping by removing some of the variability.”

“Good moisture in July and August promotes good seed fill (larger, plumper kernels), said Schmitt. “Lack of moisture shortly after pollination can reduce kernel numbers. Once we get into August a few days, kernel number is locked in, the kernels size still is influenced by heat and moisture stress.”

When asked what an average acre of land produces, Anderson replied, “It really depends on where you are at. If you are in the Washington area where you have pretty good soil, you can get 200 bushels of corn fairly easily with the right weather combinations. You get into the heavier clay soils further south and west. That soil is more unforgiving. You’ve got to have everything just work out right. West of Mt. Pleasant this last year, they were just about wet and we were abnormally dry in Washington County. It was the timeliness of the rains that helped people.”

Genetic engineering has helped increase yields. “The seed varieties that my dad planted in the 70s would not hold a candle to the varieties that are available now,” said Anderson. “The bigger factor is the new varieties that are available to the farmers now. The drought tolerance package of the seeds that has been developed has come a long ways.”

The use of no till, and technology on the planting side, along with seed placement and nutrient availability has made a notable difference in overall production. “It’s a factor of both seed technology, equipment technology and management practices,” said Anderson.

“We are finding that there are an awful lot of diseases out there for the corn that we used to put up with years ago, because there wasn’t any means to combat them,” said Anderson. “And now we have different fungicides that are available, along with the use of cover crops which has sure taken on wider adoption. Folks are realizing now how that can help soil tilt, increase moisture content, water holding capacity and pH in the soils.”

“There are a lot of factors coming into play. Neither one of those is the silver bullet, but you put one or two of those changes together, on top of the seed technology that has improved, that has led to incremental gains in yield and production on fewer acres,” said Anderson.

When asked if the markets were greatly influencing decisions that growers make from year to year, Schmitt replied, “Yield is king. No yield equals no income, even if prices are high. The markets do have some influence on decisions, but not as much as one might expect. Long-term, the corn-soybean rotation is most profitable in most years. If the markets move up or down together, such that the ratio of the price of soybeans to the price of corn stays normal, the rotation will stay in place.”

“However, if the price of one commodity moves without a corresponding move in the other commodity, then we say the markets wants Commodity A more than it wants Commodity B, and we shift some acres from Commodity B to Commodity A,” said Schmitt. It varies from county to county, but in the big picture, virtually all soybeans are rotated with corn. About 70% of the corn acres are rotated with soybeans and about 30% of corn acres are planted following a proceeding corn crop.”

“Nitrogen cost have soared,” said Anderson. “It has become extremely expensive to put in a corn crop compared to what it has been in the past. So farmers have got to be extremely sharp on their marketing side of things. And they have to run a pretty sharp pencil on what their projections are for the year.”

“Our business is extremely dependent on weather,” said Anderson. “We can get all the improvements in technology, but the fact of the matter is, it has to rain when we need it, not too much and not too little. Timing is everything.”