Corn School: What's the secret to winning yield contests?


What’s the secret to growing those gigantic corn yields that turn a select few U.S. farmers into corn yield contest kings?

Purdue University corn guru Dr. Bob Nielsen has been pouring over National Corn Yield Contest data and crop input and management summaries from winners for almost two decades. What has he learned? After all that toil, Nielsen has turned up very little and concludes that there really are no correlations between contest-winning high yields and corresponding inputs. If there are any BIG secrets, Nielsen hasn’t found them.

On this episode of RealAgriculture’s Corn School, Nielsen joins Bernard Tobin to discuss yield contest insights he shared during his presentation at the recent virtual Ontario Agricultural Conference.

Winning contests is not all about high plant populations and obscene amounts of N, P and K, says Nielsen who notes that many contest winners claim top prizes with only 27,000 plants and 50 lb of N per acre. Winners come from all across the management and input spectrum and it’s really difficult to pinpoint specific management tips that growers can bring home and apply to their own fields.

If farmers want to figure out the secret to achieving higher yields in the future, Nielsen tells farmers “to figure out why you’re not achieving high yields today… in other words, it’s about identifying and mitigating yield-limiting factors specific to individual fields.” (Story continues after the video.)

According to Nielsen, yield success requires corn growers to adopt a “thoughtful agronomic perspective.” This means growers have to improve their agronomic knowledge; identify, locate and diagnose important yield factors; and make sound agronomic decisions based on facts and data, not simply on what they read and hear.

In the video, Nielsen reviews common yield-limiting factors that growers need to consider. The top yield robber on his list is inadequate soil drainage. Hybrid performance, soil compaction, weed resistance, foliar disease and nutrient deficiency are also keys to unlocking yield potential, he notes.

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