Schmitt: Last year’s corn yield may have been a record, but it could have been better
BY BROOKS TAYLOR
Mt. Pleasant News
Iowa corn farmers produced an all-time record of 199 bushels an acre corn crop in 2016.
Iowa State University Extension Crop Specialist Virgil Schmitt, while acknowledging the record, said the yield could have been better.
“The dry June and the heat in August probably cost us 5-10 percent of our yields,” Schmitt said, “but that is a wild guess.
“If we would have picked up rain in June and took a few degrees off the temperatures in August, we would have had unbelievable yields.”
The southeast Iowa crop reporting station led the state with an average corn yield of 193.5 bushels an acre in 2014. In 2016, southeast Iowa’s corn yields were projected at 194 bushels an acre, which puts the district tied for sixth best in yields among the state’s nine crop reporting districts.
Last year comes on the heels of a down year in 2015 when the region only had an average of 175 bushels an acre. “We went from feast to famine and back to feast,” noted Schmitt.
Even though yields were strong in 2016, the crop specialist said a late summer rally wiped out concerns in June. “The third week of June everybody was worried because the dry weather was curling the leaves on corn plants. A month later, people said they never saw crops this good.
“What that showed is how much stress tolerance is built into the crops and how resilient they (crops) are.”
East-central Iowa led the state in corn yield at an average of 206 bushels an acre; central Iowa was one bushel behind; north-central and northwest Iowa were at 202 and 201 bushels, respectively; west central Iowa had 194 bushels; southwest Iowa 188 bushels; and south-central 182 bushels per acre.
Schmitt attributed several factors to the record-breaking yields: timely moisture, lack of devastating weather and improvement in seed genetics.
“Weather played a major factor,” he began. “The late summer moisture is what made it. The improvement in genetics also has helped. Due to improved genetics, the yields are increasing a bushel an acre per year.”
The average yield in the United States in 2016 was 175.3 bushels an acre. Illinois topped the nation with an average yield of 202 bushels. Other area states had Indiana at 188 bushels and Ohio at 153.
Much of the ingredients are there for an encore performance in 2017. Top- and subsoil moisture is excellent, he noted. “The good news is we have moisture, the bad news is that if we get a lot of spring moisture, we could have too much. Moisture can be both a blessing and a curse.”
With Iowa dropping into the deep freeze following a mild November, the crop specialist has some concerns about soil compaction. Noting that freeze-thaw cycles are very important in preventing the compaction of soil, Schmitt said we haven’t been blessed with those this year.
“I would encourage people that once the frost comes out of the ground to dig into the ground and see what is there,” he advised. “If you can’t get the shovel in the ground or if the shovel brings up flat planes of dirt, that means you have compaction.”
Concerning insects and winter survival, Schmitt drifts back to his axiom — “If winter is bad on us, it is bad on insects.” He said that the weather probably is not hurting corn borer larva as much as other insects.
With the soil currently in the freezer, he said that any heavy rain we would receive would runoff. Rain received over Christmas, however, did sink in, Schmitt noted.
“If the ground thaws, the rain will sink in. Even if the ground is frozen, and there is a slow, steady rain, it can actually thaw the ground,” he explained.
Strong yields have a strong impact on prices and last year’s yield kept prices low. Schmitt called it a double-edge sword, relating that a strong yield means low prices but a strong yield is needed to combat the low prices.
Schmitt also farms in addition to his position with the Extension service. In 2016, he had record corn yields of over 220 bushels an acre. That caused him to marvel at the difference in yields over the past 40-50 years. “When I was in college in the 1970s, if I would have had 130 bushels an acre corn yields, I would have thought I had gone to heaven.”