Tillage conference draws large crowd, attention to yield


ADA, Ohio — A shoulder-to-shoulder crowd filled the exhibit hall and ballrooms at the annual Conservation Tillage and Technology Conference, held Feb. 24-25 on the campus of Ohio Northern University.

Farmers from at least seven states helped push the attendance to 1,000, with some 60 presenters discussing yield improvement, soil quality, the weather and the market outlook.

Weather systems

Elwynn Taylor, a climatologist with Iowa State University, got things started with a talk on El Nino and La Nina. The current winter is a La Nina, which generally means cooler northern winds, and warmer winds from the south.

The back and forth tug of the two extremes could make for an interesting growing season. Statistically, a La Nina winter usually means the chance of having a record high yield drops significantly. On the contrary, an El Nino typically sees yields go up.

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But Taylor and a host of others who spoke throughout the day seemed optimistic about the upward trend in corn yields over time, which Fred Below, crop scientist with the University of Illinois, said needs to double by 2050 to support the growing population.

By that year, the population is predicted to be 9 billion.

“We’re going to have to intensify and we’re going to have to do so intelligently,” he said.

Good sign

Taylor said corn yield has doubled at least twice in the past, going from 25 bushels per acre in 1930, to 50 bushels per acre in 1956, and it increased to 100 bushels in 1979.

“At the rate things are going, we’ll double it for the third time somewhere between 2030-2040,” he said.

Some producers already have doubled their yields using high performance corn, he said, but more will do so as the technology becomes more economical and widespread.

“It will make corn the most efficient yield plant that we know of in the world,” Taylor said, which will be important factor in sustaining demand as a food, and as a source of biofuel.

The big push among corn farmers is to reach 300 bushels an acre — a figure only a few have obtained. To get there, all factors need to be in place.

“If you have any hope of growing 300 bushels of corn to the acre you better get the factors that affect corn yield the most right,” Below said.

He outlined the “seven wonders of the corn yield world” — things he said farmers already know, but need reminded of because they are important.

At the top is weather, the single-most important factor in determining yields. In second is nitrogen, followed by hybrids, the previous crop, plant population, tillage and growth regulators.

Other factors

Below listed the following factors as critically important, though not as much as the “yield wonders:” Drainage, pest/weed control, proper soil pH and adequate levels of P and K.

In the afternoon, Laura Overstreet of the University of Illinois, talked about the ways strip tillage is being used to improve soil quality and yield. It’s benefits include the ability to place fertilizer closely to the plant’s roots, which increase nutrient uptake.

Gary Wilson, OSU extension educator and one of the event’s coordinators, said there are two kinds of people who come to the conference: Those who farm and those who want to gain educational credits, especially Certified Crop Advisers.

As for the farmers, “they’re wanting to come to get more details on how to limit inputs and increase production,” Wilson said.

Friday’s attendance was down from the snow storm, but a good number still came to receive educational credits, he said.

The conference is sponsored by Ohio State University, Northwest Ohio Soil & Water Conservation Districts, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, USDA Farm Service Agency, The Ohio No-Till Council, Wingfield Crop Insurance, and Ohio Corn and Wheat Growers Association.


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