Technology helps improve corn profits

Editors note: Following is the first in a series on corn production practices, based on information from a farmer panel discussion at the recent Ag Technology Conference at Texas A&M-Commerce.

Technology promises to play a key role in North Texas corn farmers' efforts to increase profit potential over the next few years.

Five farmers, participants in a panel discussion recently at the annual Agricultural Technology Conference on the Texas A&M-Commerce campus, outlined how they plan to incorporate emerging technology into their operations.

Farmer/panelists, Butch Aycock, McKinney; Ronnie Lumpkins, Leonard; Jay Norman, Leonard; Ben Scholz, Wylie; and Jimmy West, Roxton, say technology will make their jobs easier by reducing labor requirements. They also look to innovations to decrease fuel costs, improve conservation efforts and increase efficiency and profitability.

“Roundup Ready technology will improve weed control on my farm,” West said. “Bt corn may have a place as well, but that depends on insect pressure. Without potential for significant losses, I'm not sure we can afford Bt corn.

“It's something we'll look at for the future, however.”

He says Immi corn also increases his weed control options. “We have to be alert for any new technology that comes along.”

Aycock said Roundup Ready allows him to grow continuous corn. “I've seen no real yield problem with a lack of rotation.”

Rootworm infestations, the main factor in most North Texas farmers' insistence on rotation, has not been a problem for Aycock yet.

“We'll know by the fourth year in corn if a field is going to have trouble,” he said. And he's not inflexible. “We used to rotate corn with wheat.”

Norman said seed treatments, Roundup Ready and other technologies allow him to get his crop planted earlier.

“That's often a big advantage in this area because of frequent adverse weather during planting season. Technology allows us to get over acreage when weather and soil conditions are favorable.”

Norman tried Bt corn on limited acreage last year. ‘If we get rootworms, I think it will help, but with a good rotation program, we may not need the extra expense.”

Scholz says technology has allowed him to shift to a reduced tillage system.

“Weed control is much easier but more expensive. I like the flexibility I get with reduced tillage and chemical weed control. I'll use this system until I run into problems.”

Lumpkins used Roundup Ready varieties on 100 percent of his corn acreage in 2002. “I really like the technology,” he said, “but seed costs may become a factor, especially with stacked gene corn.”

He says seed could get so expensive farmers would have to make 150 bushels (dryland) per acre to justify the extra cost.

“We'd have to make that every year,” he said. “But if we get into heavy worm infestations, we may need it.”

They're getting technology from a number of different varieties with maturity dates ranging from 90 to 120 days.

Lumpkins used all NC+ varieties last year with maturity ratings of 112, 116 and 119 days. Most of his acreage, 60 percent, was 116-day corn. He had 20 percent each in 112 and 119. “Everything had to work right to make a crop last year,” he said. “Yields were good.”

He planted from March 1 through March 20. “If I had one day to plant everything, I'd pick March 20,” he said. “I don't like to run into April planting corn.”

Scholz used 112 to 120-day corn varieties, with Pioneer, Dekalb and NC+.

“I try to stay away from using too many varieties,” he said.

He likes to start planting the last week in February, “depending on the weather. Sometimes, weather keeps me out of the field until March.”

Norman prefers to plant from March 1 through March 5 and will use maturity ratings of 108, 112, 113 and 116.

Aycock uses “mostly Pioneer varieties” with maturity ranging from 110 to 119 days. “I use the faster maturing varieties on lighter soils.

“I usually get higher yields from later varieties. If I have corn that's too early, I lose some yield. But on the lighter soils I try to make the crop before dry weather hits.”

He says early planting could cost as much as 30 percent of potential yield. ‘It's hard to make a full crop and some years corn that matures into late August also gets hurt. But, overall, too early can be a mistake.”

West says the unusual weather patterns in North Texas convince him that an extended planting season is best. He starts around February 10 and uses maturity ratings from 90 to 120 days.

“The 100-day corn varieties are good options,” he said. “I'm backing away from the 90-day corn because of yield limitations. But conditions change from year-to-year, so I keep my options open and plant several different maturities each year to spread risks.

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