Friday, March 4, 2011

National Yield Contests

Is it just me, or are the national yield contests sending the wrong message?  Let's talk corn. 

I know corn yield contests are supposed to be about increasing production to feed a hungry world, but they can also push input limits - fertilizers, micro nutrients, water - to the max as well.  In every case, promoting the elusive 400 bushel per acre corn yield can be considerably input (water) intensive.   I also know there are a number of classes in the contest, including non-irrigated - and this is fine.  In 2008 over 6,000 participants were in the national corn growing contest - pushing their production skills to the limit.  And 2010 was the 49th year of the contest.

Most ag schools will tell you that maximum yield rarely (if ever) provides the producer the best net returns.  Like yield's response to water being curvilinear toward the top end, (See earlier irrigation post) yield response to fertilizer and all other inputs is the same.  It simply ends up costing the producer more in inputs than the last few bushels of grain are worth - thus lowering net returns.  Unfortunately, yield contests are all about top production - regardless.

In 2010 the irrigated class was consistently above 300 bushels per acre yield.  But I noted that all but a few of the top irrigated producers were from Texas and Colorado - dry climate states.  The top 2010 irrigated producer managed 368 bushels per acre from a Virginia farm. 

Maybe it's time we start thinking about the input side of crop production in a contest form.  Maybe the contest should be about crop yield efficiency - the highest yield with the least amount of inputs - especially water.  Classes within the National Corm Yield Contest for limited irrigation would do this - it'd be a start, at least.  When water gets really limited, it'll all be about growing maximum bushels with minimum water anyway, so maybe we should be pushing these frontiers a bit more now.  And maybe I'm all wet, too.  Comments?

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