Corn research verification fields set new yield record
A 13-year-old research program with a goal to help Arkansas farmers grow corn better, hit a new high in 2012, with average yields hitting 238 bushels per acre, obliterating the old record of 205 bushels set in 2008.
"Maybe I should retire now," Kevin Lawson, Extension corn verification program coordinator, said with a laugh. "I don't know that I'll ever see another year like this."
Both Lawson and Jason Kelley, specialist in corn, wheat and feed grains for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, called 2012 "a perfect storm" for great yields. The warm, dry spring, combined with very little stress early in the season "got our corn off to a good start," Kelley said. "There were no high winds and no floods" like the ones that plagued crops across the Delta in 2011.
Arkansas row crop verification programs are a University of Arkansas innovation. The programs enroll farmers who set aside a piece of their acreage and manage it according to university research recommendations. These cooperator-farmers are essential in taking what's learned in small plot research, and verifying the practices in real world usage. The first program, for cotton, began in 1980.
In Arkansas through the 1950s, corn was grown mostly to feed livestock. Combined with little need and low prices, acreage withered away in Arkansas, with some years seeing as few as 50,000 acres of corn. Kelley said that in the mid- to late-1990s, prices began to spike. Acres followed.
The corn verification program began in 2000 when it became apparent that corn was on its way to becoming a major crop for Arkansas growers. In those 13 years, 104 fields in 32 corn-producing counties have taken part in the program, which is funded by the Corn & Grain Sorghum Promotion Board through a producer check off.
As corn prices climbed to record levels--averaging $7 a bushel--stalks and ears began to replace cotton and rice in Arkansas. The 2012 season saw the state's largest acres of corn since the early 1950s--690,000 acres, and the weather that benefited the verification fields, also helped the rest of the corn. As of mid-October, the National Agricultural Statistics Service estimated Arkansas' average yield at 177 bushels per acre--also a record.
The high numbers and the corn-killing drought in the Midwest meant Arkansas had the nation's fourth-highest yields in 2012.
This year, the verification program had seven fields in Arkansas, Clay, Desha, Drew, Poinsett, and Prairie counties, and one field that straddled the Lawrence/Randolph County line. The highest average yields in the program were in Clay County, with 253.8 bushels per acre; 246.3 bushels per acre in Desha County; and 244.1 bushels per acre in Poinsett County.
"In a 40-year period, we've gone from yields of 60 bushels an acre to 160 bushels an acre," Kelley said. "That's 100 bushels an acre in 40 years. We're doing things better with better genetics."
Yields were so big in Walter Rice's field, which sprawls over the Lawrence/Randolph County line, "the only drawback was I got tired hauling all that corn off," Rice said. He added he kept thinking that "we're never going to get finished out there. There was corn everywhere. It was amazing."
His corn research verification field averaged 242.5 bushels per acre.
"This year everything hit right," he said. When asked how his work with the university specialists and extension agents went, Rice laughed, saying: "I was probably more of a nuisance than average. I asked 'why are we doing this?' and they explained it--'this is why we're doing what we're doing' and explained the phases of development."
"This is my second year in the verification program. If I could be in it again, I would take it in a heartbeat," Rice said.
Brock Russell's Clay County yields in his first year in the verification program topped the charts at 253.8 bushels per acre. The biggest changes he made in 2012, he will continue into his next season.
"We're going to plant more of the hybrid that was planted in the verification field, and up my seed rate per acre," he said. Irrigation was the other major change. "We really kept up with the watering this year."
The 2012 corn and sorghum verification report can be found online at www.aragriculture.org/crops/corn/Verification/2012_annual_report.pdf.
To learn more about the verification program, contact your county extension office or visit www.uaex.edu.