Field Crops Webinar - Corn Production - Joe Lauer
February 15, 2021
In the first session on Feb. 15, Joe Lauer, corn agronomy specialist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, will focus on “Corn Yield Drivers and Profit Robbers in the Northern U.S. Corn Belt.” Profitable corn production is extremely important to Midwest U.S. agriculture. Farmers today face fluctuating prices and rising production costs. They must be well informed about new technologies to maximize yield and profitability.
This session is designed to provide technical insight and practical advice for key agronomic management decisions. Specific topics will focus on crop productivity, quality and production system efficiency. Hybrid selection, rotation, tillage and plant/replant and yield loss damage assessments will be addressed. Emphasis is on impacts of these cropping practices on grower profitability.
Thank you, Eric, for this invitation to speak to you guys. And I'll try to run our meeting as open as I can. And if you have any questions at any time feel free to stop me and we can get it back on track. We're gonna cover a lot of topics tonight and some more in-depth than others. I know you've got other speakers lined up that are gonna talk specifically about things like soil fertility and pest control and some of those things. I'm gonna touch on some of these but I wanna talk really about the profitability of corn production more than anything. And like I say, if you have any questions or anything feel free to stop me at any time. Eric and others are gonna help me with questions and interrupt me if I keep rambling on too much here. So with that, I'm gonna start with this slide. And this slide has got a lot on it but we're gonna come back to it at the end. But this slide basically kind of summarizes our research work that we've seen looking at yield and profit and loss potential for crop production decisions. And I just have a number of them up here that I call kind of the main ones. And some of these have more of an impact than others but this is basically the compilation of about 20 years or so of research that we've done over here at Wisconsin. And we're looking at various factors things like hybrid yield or hybrid selection fertilizer, pest control planting date and so on down the line. And we're gonna introduce this concept of maximum yield versus economic optimums later on in the talk. But the maximum yields and economic optimum swings if you will, can be very different in terms of where they're located in any kind of an input curve that we've got. If we just look at a decision, say for hybrid selection the top versus bottom hybrid in any hybrid trial that we've conducted through the years on average, we'll see a 70 bushel yield swing between the top one, top hybrid in a trial and the bottom hybrid. And that's a 42% yield swing, okay? And if we only figure half of that let's just say it's 35 bushels and then you multiply that 3.50 corn that's a $122 swing basically with that kind of a decision. And really the big three that we've got are really hybrid selection, fertilizer and pest control. There are a number of other things that have big influences on corn production things like planting date and crop rotation and plant population. We'll touch on these but some of these are more important than others. Things like tillage, row spacing what I call silver bullets oftentimes, are really not all that important when we start talking about corn profitability and yield. But just to give you an example of what I mean we'll just take this hybrid selection decision here. And this next slide kind of shows what we've seen going back to 1973 looking at the top and bottom hybrids in a trial. And just looking at the difference between the top one and the bottom one. Sometimes we'll see differences up to 180 bushels between that top and bottom line hybrid. On average all, if you look at all the trials we've done it's about a 71 bushel per acre difference with an average yield of about 172 bushels per acre. So again, even if it's only half of this even if it's only 35 bushels per acre that's still a big yield swing that can occur with just this one decision that you make at your kitchen table in the winter time, okay? And really, hybrid selection is a very important one. But this gives you an example here of kind of how I approached all these different decisions. As we start to talk about the economics of corn production one of the things that we have to keep in mind is just where does our profit potential come from? And with corn, we've been blessed in that we've seen a steady yield increase with corn really through the years. If you go (indistinct) we have yield records for corn going back to the Civil War. Not much happened up until about the 1930s. And then we entered what we call the hybrid era. And basically, we saw a 1.7 bushel per acre increase per year during this time. There were swings up and down but it was a steady increase. We're now in what I call the bio-engineered era where we're using a lot of bio-engineered hybrids. And that yield increase is about two bushels per acre per year. And this is something that you get as kind of a raise, if you will and affects the economics of corn production. This is what we see in the US. I'm gonna show what we see in Wisconsin. I think it is very similar for what you see in Michigan as well. But right now we're seeing about a two bushel per acre per year increase with corn. One of the things that I always kind of tease the companies about a little bit is that in 2007 they predicted we'd have 300 bushels per acre as the US average in 2007. And that means we'd have to be increasing yield at six and a half bushels per acre per year. And you can see since that time we've really not seen that kind of a yield increase. It's still only at about this two bushel per acre per year. But that's kind of where the industry is trying to go. I had said at the time that I thought they were trying to just sell stock and sell the companies and lo and behold, they did a little bit but that was a prognostication at that time. But not everybody around the country is enjoying these yield increases. If you look at just the bio-engineered era which started in 1996. And I'm just showing 21 years or 22 years of data here. If you look at how each county has been affected during this bio-engineered era you can see that the red here is basically a no slope kind of a county. In other words, the yields today are the same as they were in 1996. The dark blue counties are ones where you saw four bushel per acre per year increase over this 22-year period. Most of that increase has been coming in Southern Georgia a little bit into Alabama. But depending on the era that you're looking at you'll see these great yield increases at different times. Like the Ogallala came in in the 1950s and 60s. The Southwestern US with irrigation were all blue during that time. Right now we're seeing this basically, this real steady increase in the southeastern part of the state of the country. But if you look at the Corn Belt we've been increasing about two to three bushels per acre per year. Michigan has seen a lot better increases than what we've seen over in Wisconsin. This county right here. Eric, are you seeing my pointer at all, you see that? - [Eric] Yep, we can see it. - Okay, there's been some good yield increases on the thumb and also on the western side here. But all these red counties here there's been no increase at all. There's a lot of counties that really haven't seen much increase. So not every county is enjoying that yield increase during this bio-engineered era and that's the point I wanted to try to make with this slide. All right, so that's one area of the economics. You see these yield increases that occur with corn. Another area that you can control as a grower is the cost of production that you have for producing corn. The USDA does a number of different surveys looking at cost of production. I'm gonna show you some data from the Northern Crescent which includes Michigan, Wisconsin kind of Northern Minnesota and New York and kind of the northern part of the US and compare that to the Heartland area here. And just look at what the cost of production is for corn because again, that's one way that can affect your economics a little bit. You look at the overall US cost of production. Basically, we see a real big increase going on in the 2000 (indistinct) and also the 2010s. And right now it costs about around $700 an acre to produce corn. If you look at the Northern Crescent and the states Michigan, Wisconsin it's a little bit less than the US average. And if you look at the profitability or the profitable years the only year is where we've seen some profitability really have been in 2010 to about 2013. All the other years there's been a slight decrease in profitability. If you look at the Heartland which would be the Iowa, Illinois, Indiana states their cost of production is a little higher and you'll see why in a little bit. But their cost of production is a little higher. It's again, around the $700 per acre cost and they've had a few more years where they've seen some profitability than we've seen in the northern Corn Belt. But this is what the survey data from basically USDA, FSA, those kinds of things have been showing through the years. Now, if you break this down into different parts in terms of cost of production there are a few things that really, I think kind of stand out. First of all, if you look at labor, overhead and chemicals it's these lines right down here there really hasn't been much of a change. It's been going running between about 20 and $40 an acre. The things that have really changed pretty dramatically are fertilizer. Basically, that's gone up about three times, okay? About a three X or three to four X increase. And then the other big one has been seed. That's gone up almost five X, five times. It used to cost it's 20 to $30 now we're looking at a $100 an acre or more. Land has also gone up. Equipment has also gone up a little bit but really seed and fertilizer have been the biggest ones in the Northern Crescent part of the country. If we look at the Corn Belt, the Heartland again, we see these changes going on and it's probably even more dramatic with the seed. Not a lot of change going on with labor overhead and chemicals. With fertilizer, seed. Land is probably two X and also equipment has gone up probably about two X as well. So cost of production is another way that you can kind of adjust the economics, if you will of corn production. A third way is through your marketing options, okay? And there's a lot of different ways that you can market corn to again, increase that profitability of corn. And I'm not gonna get into this too much but this is another thing that affects your profitability. And finally, the fourth area which been probably the biggest, had the biggest impact over the last three or four years has been really the crop insurance and government programs. We'd had the Market Facilitation Program during the Trump years with the version one and version 2.0. I don't think anybody wants this sort of a thing. The ideal is really to have it market-driven and by trade and demand but that's really not been what's been happening over the last few years. Hopefully, we're getting back to that. Prices have been a little bit stronger lately. Of course, everyone should be looking at crop insurance and it's $700 an acre. You're almost forced to have crop insurance with operating loans and that sort of a thing. So these four areas the yield increase, your cost of production your marketing techniques and the crop insurance and government programs are all things that affect the profitability of corn. So now what I'd like to do then is kind of switch into kind of more of the agronomic parts of things. Getting back to that first slide we looked at as to some of the decisions. Of course, one of the things that affects everything we do is really weather. If you've got irrigation you can oftentimes mitigate some of this sort of thing. But a good way to mitigate it really, is sort of crop insurance. And again, a lot of operating loans now require crop insurance. In the Midwest, we're typically challenged by wet springs which affect our root surface area. We're seeing more and more drainage going in the Corn Belt as well as like in Wisconsin as well we see a lot of fields getting a lot of drainage put in. And that helps with some of the wet springs that we can have. But the other thing we're challenged with is dry, hot growing conditions during pollination and kernel set and that can affect ultimately, our test weight. But it's another thing that affects things. If you're a praying person pray for ideally a spring dry enough to get early planting. Well, yeah, wet enough to activate herbicides. You want, in the summers, timely rain of about one inch per week. In the fall, You want sunny, dry weather. It helps speed the dry-down part of producing corn dry. Dry-down and the energy costs associated with dry-down can really eat up a lot of the profitability especially in the northern part of the Corn Belt. So that's what we would like to see in the fall of the year. But one of the things that we've got to just kind of accept is the fact that mother nature has got the upper hand. So as we start to look at some of these yield limiting factors that are there that are out there and things that we can do management-wise really, most yield limiting factors really aren't about inputs. Really, the most important management decisions are really about hybrid selection. If you look at how technology is typically delivered to the farm gate most of that technology is really delivered through the hybrid that you buy. And that hybrid dictates the management style that you've got available to you then during the season. Once this is decided then the main management objective really then is to reduce stress on the corn plants during the growing season. So again, selecting hybrids really dictates the management spot style that you've got. There are a number of principles that are involved with selecting a good hybrid. I know that you have a university hybrid evaluation program in Michigan that does a real good job and has the same hybrids planted at a number of locations to get multi-location averages. But using multi-location averages and evaluating consistency of performance are two long-term principles that we've recommended as universities for a long period of have time, okay? But during the bio-engineered era there's really three more that I think need to be considered as we wrestle with this decision. These are every hybrid's got to stand on its own for performance. It's got to pull its own weight and I'll show an example in a bit. You really need to pay attention to seed costs. If you see a hybrid, two hybrids that are different by more than about $75 a bag you really have to question the more expensive hybrid. And we see a lot of bio-engineered hybrids that are 250, $300 a bag versus a conventional hybrid at $150 a bag. And you really have to question what you can really gain with the more expensive bio-engineered hybrids. And finally, buy the traits you need and I know this is hard. But one thing to remember about all of this is that traits do not add to yield. What traits do, these traits are largely defensive. They protect yield. There's only one trait that I think is more offensive and that's the drought tolerant trait that is around. It's not really pushed all that much but that is one of the only offensive traits that I've seen with hybrid selection. Everything else is defensive. Why would it a roundup ready trait add anything to yield? The roundup ready trait really just helps protect yield. It makes weed management a lot easier. So these traits are typically defensive in nature rather than offensive, okay? So let's just look at some of these three things to add here. Again, we always use multi-location data if we can and evaluate the consistency of performance but let's look at these three things here a little bit. Very early on, this was back in the early 2010s or so we were tracking hybrid families. Oftentimes, hybrids are bought and sold as families and they have different transgenes in them and we would track these a little bit. And here was one family here. This is just a random assignment here but basically, what we'd see is the difference between the trial average. And where these hybrid events came in was somewhere between four and 27 bushels better than the trial average. Well, that's quite a range. That's a 23-bushel swing depending on whether you've got the Mon810 event or the MonGA21 event, okay? And likewise, you can go down to these different families here and see yield swings about 15 bushels here about 21 bushels here. They're all from the same family but they all perform very differently because these transgenes interact differently with the underlying genotype of the hybrids. And so, this is what I mean by every hybrid's got to stand on its own. Just because you got a hybrid you have a family of hybrids and they have the underlying platform or chassis, I've heard it described as well. You really have to be careful about it. I remember I think it was in 2010 or 2011 when the triple stacks came out or maybe it was earlier than that maybe it's 2002. The triple stacks came out farmers had bought on the basis of double stacks but they were delivered triple stacks. Given what we've seen here that there has been tremendous difference in whether it's double stack or triple stack. Just because you got that third trait doesn't necessarily mean it's gonna be good, all right? The other thing pay attention to seed costs. Again, the best we can do to predict hybrid performance the next year is about 11 or 12 bushels. So if you take 11 or 12 bushels and multiply that over two acres so that's about 22 bushels or so 22 to 24 bushels, then multiply three or 3.50 corn that gets to this 75 to $90 difference in price that we can typically see between a more expensive hybrid and a cheaper hybrid. And so, in the past, in Extension we wouldn't really care too much. Our recommendations were basically go with a better performing hybrid regardless of the cost. But now the price difference is so great that you really have to pay attention to the seed costs. And we have a spreadsheet that you can download to take a look at some of this if you want to. And then finally, buy the traits you need. And I know this is really hard. It's really hard for farmers to be able to buy the traits that they need because they're oftentimes forced to this is expensive stuff and the companies can't carry everything that a farmer would want. But you can certainly tell them what you'd like. For example, in the northern part of Wisconsin we don't oftentimes need a corn rootworm trait and because we have a lot of alfalfa good rotations up there and we don't really have a lot of problems with corn rootworm. So why buy the trait if we don't need it? But I know that's a very difficult thing to do but anyway, that's something to consider. Okay, so that's hybrid selection. We've kind of looked at this a little bit here. I wanna talk a little bit now more about all these different decisions that a farmer's got to consider. And we've talked a little bit about hybrid selection but there's things like rotation, tillage. These are oftentimes things that you either do or you don't. I call them categorical variables. You're gonna buy certain kinds of equipment like narrow row spacing or 30-inch row spacing or whatever. Those are things that you decide upon and you do the best decision you make the best decision you can make but it's really, once you go that way you're kind of locked in for the season. There's also something called continuous variables where things like plant density, planting dates soil fertility, the rate the amount of irrigation you put on. These are all things that cost money and we need to think about how much we're gonna put on. There's what we call an economic optimum associated with these continuous variables. And finally, there are optional variables as well. Things like drainage that you can do. I mean, there's a lot of different things that can go into some of these could be put in these other categories. But some of these you really don't need to pay probably as much attention to oftentimes and still produce a fairly good corn crop. I wanna take just one of these here. I wanna just take plant density and show you what a mean about this here. You could use nitrogen rate you could use a lot of different things to look at this but basically, along the bottom here, we've got input. And basically, this would be the amount of effort that goes into producing the yield or looking at the cost. When we look at, for example, plant population oftentimes, we'll see a yield response that looks like this. It goes up to a maximum and then it starts to head down. Sometimes it heads down real steeply sometimes it plateaus. Generally though, this we call curvilinear. Generally though, costs are typically linear, all right? And as you increase the amount of plants that you put out there per acre that cost basically goes up in a linear fashion. Now, there's a number of points we're interested on this curve. We wanna know where the maximum yield occurs, okay? On this kind of relationship. The thing we wanna know is we want to know where are the economic optimum is. We know it's gonna be something less than that maximum yield. But wanna know where that economic optimum is. And basically, the principle here is that the first inputs that you have are more important than the latter ones. You see much more of a yield response with the first levels of the input than you do once you're up at that maximum yield, okay? So these are really important in here. And what we're trying to do really is maximize this distance between the input cost and the yield response. And again, it's always gonna be something lower than where that maximum yield is. Another point I'm always interested in is where do these lines cross? Where are we at equilibrium? Eventually, these plant populations are gonna come down and we've grown corn in research plots up to 100 thousand plants per acre. Cost is no object. We keep going up until we start bringing that yield down and we can't bring that yield down as that plant population goes at high. Another point we're interested in is where does this line cross the Y axis, okay? In other words, what's the yield with no input? With plant population, it's easy. It's right at zero. But with nitrogen oftentimes, there's mineralization of nitrogen during the season and you can apply nitrogen zero effort inputs you can still have a fairly good yield response that goes on. And then finally, you get these categorical things where tillage or row space and our fungicide oftentimes show very small differences in terms of where the maximum yield is versus the economic optimum that occurs. I wanna show you one example here of what happens with nitrogen here. This is a slide that basically is some data from Lancaster. This experiment was started in 1966. And so, there's been no nitrogen applied since 1966. And so, this corn is continuous corn zero and applied since that time. And you can see that this is pretty much about a flat line. I mean, at the start we were getting about 80 bushels and right now we're still at about 80 bushels. Once in a while, it pops up a little bit. Maybe there's a little bit of an increase but there's really not much of a change since 1966. Now, this is really odd. And why is that? Well, remember that our yield increases here are gonna be bushels per acre per year. And yet when we apply zero nitrogen since 1966 you see that there's really no change going on in terms of yield through time. We would expect an increase in yield here but there's really been no change at all. And this was a good example of the importance of management and hybrid selection. These go hand in glove. If you don't apply nitrogen or make nitrogen available to the corn those genetics aren't gonna be able to capture that, okay? And so, this is a hand in glove example of where we need to have not only good genetics but also have to have nitrogen out there in the field for corn. And there are other examples of this sort of a thing. Plant population we'll see in a bit as well. But if you look at the corn and the corn-soybean rotation we see a steep increase. But again, it's maybe a little bit of a linear increase but certainly not at two bushels per acre per year. It's only when we get to corn following alfalfa where we got some nitrogen in there that we start to see this yield increase. And in this case here it's about one and a half bushels per acre per year for this first year of corn following alfalfa. Not quite two bushels but it is about one and a half bushels per acre per year through time here. All right, so management and hybrid selection go hand in glove in terms of whether or not we're gonna see that response. So I'm just gonna spend a little time here on soil fertility. I know you're gonna have more to say about this in some of the speakers following tonight. But soil fertility, this is not the place to cut costs. Follow extension recommendations where you can and apply the cheapest form of fertilizer that you can to do the field. We know how much nitrogen is and P and K, N, P and K are well, nitrogen is required but also how much P and K are removed. And these have gotta be replaced at least in these fields in order to keep them fertile. We use at Wisconsin and I'm not sure what you use at Michigan but we use something called the MRTN approach where we basically, assume that a range of nitrogen rates can produce profitable yields. And the economics drive the profitable nitrogen rate that's out there. Carrie Laboski and others here at Wisconsin have done a lot of work in trying to find where those optimum where the maximum yield occurs but also where the economic optimum is occurring. And so, we oftentimes recommend a range of nitrogen rates rather than trying to a specific rate that's out there. So that's our approach here in Wisconsin to corn production. One of the other things I wanna mention is that with a lot of these bio-engineered hybrids now we're starting to see more nutrient removal of micronutrients and some of the other nutrients as well. Calcium, magnesium and sulfur. If you look at modern hybrids this is a paper published... I forget where this was done. Somewhere in the Corn Belt, I think. But if you look at modern hybrids hybrids in 2000 versus 1960 oftentimes, in nearly every case, except for manganese the amount of nutrient removal of grain as well as silage is much higher with the modern hybrids. There's more nutrient uptake that occurs. So this is calcium, magnesium and sulfur. Here we've got iron, okay? In the grain. Here we've got copper, zinc. Manganese was the only one that was really for silage that we didn't see an increase but boron as well. So there's seems to be more nutrients taken up into the grain and I think we have to monitor this really closely as we go forward down the road. Another thing that's important to keep track of again, I'm not gonna spend a lot of time on this is pest control. Again, these were the big three that were in that list at the start. And for us in corn, weeds are probably more important than insects and diseases. I think in soybeans or others maybe diseases might be first. But really with corn, weeds are the most important. There are economic injury levels and economic threshold levels that are oftentimes developed for every pest and every crop and watch those and follow those as best you can. I'm gonna spend a little bit of time here just on weeds. And it's the most important principle that I think is there and that is getting good early season weed control. That probably is the most important recommendation, I think that we can do. So many times we get out there a little bit late, I think and this is some data from Nebraska where if you treat it earlier this is basically corn treated earlier versus later. V4 is only about a plant that's five, six inches tall or so and yet by that time if we don't treat it that corn especially under low nitrogen rates we'll oftentimes start to see yield decreases going on. And really all of the yield decreases that are going to occur by V6 if we don't treat by that time oftentimes, we can see some yield losses that occur with later treatment dates. So, the point I wanted to make here is just being on top of it and staying and applying a lot of these pest control things early is really where we wanna be. I'm not a weed scientist or anything and nor a soil scientist but these are just some important things, I think for corn profitability and yield. We do do a lot of work with crop rotation. And I know that corn price is going up right now. And typically, when corn prices go up oftentimes, we don't worry about rotation all that much. But it's really the easiest yield that you can get when you start talking about corn profitability. And corn yield increases can go eight to 19% when rotated with soybean. We're getting, in the US, more and more counties with acreages that are 90 to 100% corn and soybeans. Okay, if you go through time, this is the 2010s. If you go through time in the 1970s there was maybe one or two counties in Illinois but now we've got a whole bunch of counties in Illinois Indiana, Iowa, Nebraska, Minnesota that have this. Like Wisconsin, we've got a real strong dairy industry still oftentimes, we can slow the advance of some of the problem weeds that we've got although, we're picking more and more of those up now as well too. But rotation really kind of slows a lot of that stuff down. We've got a number of rotation trials in Wisconsin that have been going on for a long time. You've already seen some data from the Lancaster site in 1966. We got a number of corn-soybean rotations that have been going on since 1983 and so on. Three-crop rotations, corn-soybean-wheat since 1984. And then we've got a number of other ones that are out there that are just have been in place for a long period of time. And these are real gems and jewels that I know you've got the Kellogg Biological Station over in Michigan but we've got some long-term trials that really we've got some really interesting data from. One of the things that we see is that this is a trial where basically we grow five years of corn on a piece of land and then five years of bean. So it's a ten-year rotation. And then we've got other plots that are alternated corn-soybeans and then we've got plots that are continuous corn. And I'm showing you here 20 years of data. And continuous corn is over here. Our yield is over here. These letters indicate statistical differences. So whenever you see a bar that's different lettered that means they're statistically different compared to... And then you see these numbers down here. These are the numbers compared to continuous corn. So corn in the corn-soybean rotation yields the same as corn following five years of beans about 217 to 220 bushels to the acre. That second year of corn we basically take about a 20 to 23 bushel yield hit with that second year of corn. And by the third year we're basically at the same yield level as continuous corn, about 187 bushels. There was another 10 bushels off of that. So if we rotate we lose about 30 bushels, if you will. And again, if it's only half of that 15 bushels is still quite a bit in terms of the economics of corn production. So where you can rotate, that's the best option. In corn what we see is conventional till oftentimes outyields no-till. And by no-till, what I mean is just a 13-wave colter plan followed by double disc openers and then seeding the crop. Conventional till for us is basically full chisel with two spring cultivator operations. And we see a yield increase with that but I hope we'll get to this but there is a tillage by rotation interaction that occurs. And we'll talk more about that later. On the soybean side, it's a little different the story. Again, now we've got five years of corn and five years of beans one, two, three, four, five and this is 30 plus years of soybeans right here continuous soybeans and this is soybeans in a corn-soybean rotation. And you can see here that when you have soybeans in a corn-soybean rotation the yield is less than soybeans following five years of corn. And a lot of this has to do with cyst nematode that's in these plots. We do bring the population down with the corn but we bring it down with five years of corn even more in the soybean plant respond. The second year of soybeans though there was a yield decrease. And by that third, fourth year you're really at continuous soybean yield. So that rotation effect basically lasts at most three years in corn and maybe a little longer in soybeans. And again, with soybeans, the opposite is what we see with soybeans in regards to tillage. No-till typically outyields conventional till by about two bushels to the acre. It's about a 3% increase that we see with no-till. But if there's only one break year in the rotation so let's just say we grow corn-soybeans or corn-corn-soybeans or corn-corn-corn-soybeans we only have that one year break in the rotation. Basically, that second corn phase is the same as, oops! Is the same as continuous corn. Continuous corn is over here, okay? Corn-soybeans outyield that. Likewise corn-corn-corn, the first phase of corn-corn-corn-soybeans outyields it. But that second year of corn is basically the same statistically as continuous corn. And likewise, that third year as is also the same. When you only have that one year break you only see that yield response really going on with that first year of corn. - [Eric] Joe. - Yep (indistinct) - [Eric] Just letting you know we've got about 15 minutes left and then I've got a question for you about the studies that you're talking about on the second year of corn in continuous corn versus corn soybean, are all... Oh, I can't see it, it went away. Let me get back to that. Okay, are all management practices the same compared with the first year following soybeans second through fourth year of corn, et cetera? Or were there any changes in management to compensate for the carbon penalty and other things? - Yeah, they're all treated the same. And we do pick up carbon, soil carbon differences but it takes a long time. These have been in place since 1983. So, almost what is that? 40 years (indistinct) 40 years already. It's almost 40 years of data that we've got and we are picking up small changes in soil carbon but they're basically all treated the same. It's easier sometimes where the residue and things to get a better stand we try to treat everything the same in these plots, okay? So I just wanna finish this story here about rotation. If you got to break years then you'll see a response in that second corn phase. So here is corn-soybeans corn alfalfa just one year of each. But here we got three years of break between continuous corn between two years of corn and continuous corn. And you can see that second year of corn right here is out yielding those continuous corn plots in this kind of rotation as well as here. And then over here, it continues to outyield. That third year is again, coming down a little bit but you need you need more break years to see that yield response in that second year if you're gonna try to see that. One of the better ways to do it of course, is to add a third crop. Whenever we have corn-soybean-wheat that seems to be our best rotation that we see. It's not only good for corn it's also good for soybean And it's also good for wheat at least in the data that we've got. That corn-soybean-wheat rotation is the best rotation when you're looking at all three crops. Of course, the big issue is what do you do with all the wheat? Probably the most important part us for the dairies over the here is the straw. That's probably more valuable oftentimes grain. Okay, I'm gonna keep going here 'cause I got a couple things I wanna try to get to if we can. Planting date's important and it's important not only on the yield impact but also on the drying costs at the end of the season. This is what sets up your season. If you are late here, you're battling it the whole season. So be ready when the time is right. What we see is where we see our maximum yield is typically right around or right before May 1st in the southern half of Wisconsin. Yields go down but we'll have a lot of years where we'll have yields Where these late planning dates the same as the early planning dates, okay? But what happens here is that the spread of these points in here becomes a lot larger and so, your risk goes up tremendously. You'll have some years where the yields are way, way down even in the beginning part of June. you'll have some years where there's not much of a yield impact at all. But that's why this yield curve goes down is that the spread of these points comes a lot wider and your risks or variants becomes really large as you get to these later planning dates. So be ready. And again, what we see is May 1st in the southern part of the state of Wisconsin and about May 7th in the northern part of Wisconsin is really kind of the dates where we get the maximum yield. And again, as you get these later planting dates you got this double whammy of drying costs at the end of the season as well. A little bit about plant density and row spacing. If you look at what's been happening with the decision of plant density is farmers have been adjusting. USDA has been keeping track of plant populations in their yield estimates. Every August, they count the number of plants out there. In the 1980s growers were at about 20 to 21,000 plants per acre. And since that time, we've seen a steady increase in plants per acre. Right now, Wisconsin, these are these red dots were a little over about 31, 32,000 plants per acre. So we've been increasing at the rate of about 267 plants per acre per year. Michigan, which I don't have up here I'm sure has been increasing as well. But 30,000 plants to the acre is not an unreasonable target level to be at. But one of the easiest ways I think you can move off your current yield level is to look at the number of plants that you have out there per area. Grain yield consists of three different things. The number of years per area, which is really plants in the case of corn. The kernel number which is a function of rows and kernels per row and then kernel weight. Kernel weight is probably most effected by environment. Kernel lumber is genetically controlled as well as environmentally controlled. Ears per area is really controlled by you as a farmer. And if you just calculate things out and look at it most of the time in Wisconsin we're sitting about right in here in terms of our yield. Going from 15 to 35,000 plants per acre typically, we'll have about four to 600 kernels on those ears. And if you figure an average kernel mass of about 282 milligrams per kernel, that calculates to these kinds of rates, theoretically, okay? If you increase those populations just a little bit and so at 35,000 plants to the acre we're sitting at about 160 to about 220 bushels per acre or so. If you increase that population a little bit you then move up a little bit in your yield curve and you can get up typically around 180 to 260 bushels per acre. Of course, some of these guys are in the yield contests, they're fairly high. The record and we now have a new record but the record in 2017 he was using 50,000 plants to the acre. And so, he had to have, if you have a 282 milligram kernel you had to have about 900 kernels on those ears to get that kind of a yield level. But this is the idea of just theoretically what can happen. So what happens though, when we look at our research plots? And again, we've brought corn yields or corn plant populations up to a 100,000 plants per acre. What's surprising is, is that almost every plant has got an ear but they're all little itty-bitty ears but I got 100,000 of them. We do drive the yield down and so, typically the yield response as these populations increase, goes up to an optimum and then it comes back down. And we see this in 19% of the what we call G by Es where we have a genotype at a location test, okay? 19% of the time, this is what we'll see. Most of the time though we're testing plant populations between about 25 to about 40,000 plants per acre or so is what we're typically at because we don't wanna have growers harvesting large plants that much. And so, when we look at these ranges oftentimes, what we see is 44% of the time we see a linear response where the the best population, the maximum yield is at the highest population we're testing. We see 1% of the time where it's kind of curvilinear. And then we see 27% of the time where the optimum population is the lowest because we don't change population at all as we go through the range of plant densities that we're testing. These are typically seen in drought kinds of environments, okay? Where oftentimes, a drought will not allow that plant density response to really be expressed. But this is not necessarily bad. All you're really out here is your return on investment if it would have been a good year because you gotta make this decision ahead of the kind of year you're gonna have. If it would have been a good year it might've responded something like this, okay? The only real negatives that we can have is something that go down, linear or curvilinear or that is kind of a V-shape here. And 7% of the time, we'll see that or 8% of the time. So 92% of the time you'll see a response. And so, when we look at the last 10 years of data what we see is that the maximum yield plant density is occurring for us in Southern Wisconsin at around a little over 40,000 plants per acre right now, okay? I always figure if I can be within 5% of that maximum yield that's good enough. So that range then becomes about 30 to 31,000 to 40 to 41,000 about a 10,000 plant swing in terms of yield that can occur. If we look at the economic optimum the economic optimum comes in at about 35,000 plants per acre. The bottom line here is that we know that plant density is affecting grain yield. And this is something that we need to test, I think all the time I think it's probably going to be field-specific. Some fields can respond to that more than others. And so, what I recommend growers do is if you feel the field should be at 30,000 plants to the acre fine, plant most of that field of that. But on one strip, one pass or one round increase that population 10,000 plants or 10%, okay? And grow it at 33,000 plants per acre. You should be able to pick this up on a yield monitor and then you can sneak up on this and find out where that hybrid in that field is really at an optimum. But know that it's changing and growers are adapting to it. In Wisconsin here, we're going up at about 250 plants per acre per year in Wisconsin. - [Eric] And Joe, we've got about five minutes left. - Okay, all right. As far as corn row width is concerned a lot of research out there on this. I think the best study that's been done really has been done at Michigan by Bill Widdicombe and Kurt Thelen. This is just an excellent study. And the reason I think this is an excellent study is they used the same planter and the same combine to harvest all of their plots. And the results are here. If we look at grain yield, it went from at 30 inches 177 bushels up to 184 bushels. That was a seven-bushel increase or about a 3%, three and a half percent yield swing that occurs with this. So row spacing is important. But when we talk about hybrid selection hybrid selection is a much more important kind of a decision than row spacing is. This slide here basically shows the interaction of this. If you're going to air on that side as you go to narrower rows plant a little bit more plants per or seeds per acre in the narrower rows. And about a 1,000 or 2,000 plants more per acre as what we see as being kind of the optimum. As far as tillage is concerned I talked a little bit about this tillage by rotation interaction. What we see with corn is that basically, if you are rotating corn you do not need to do tillage. Conventional till are these yellow bars here, okay? And then we add the no-till bars here. And basically what we're seeing over the last few years 20 years or so is that no-till outyields conventional till. It's only when you go into more and more continuous corn that you need to bring back the chisel plot a little bit to increase your yields. Here there's a nine bushel per acre difference here there's a 15 bushel per acre difference. In 30 years of continuous corn or more corn it becomes even greater. Soybeans is just the opposite. The more you do no-till the more of a yield response you're going to get. And I think this has to do with a lot of the pest complex that's out there. No-till with soybeans typically, will outyield a conventional till. One of the things we've been playing with a lot has been strip-till. These are our plots here. Our rotation plots are back in here. We've done a lot of different things with trying to optimize strip tillage within our program. Basically, what we're seeing is that conventional till outyields no-till just like we talked about but strip-till is really intermediate in a continuous corn system. In a rotated corn system there's no difference at all that goes on between conventional till and no-till and strip-till is again, really kind of intermediate or even a little bit better. And then in the soybean system again, typically what we see is a little bit better yields oftentimes with no-till. One of the things that we see with tillage is that we see an actual elevation change that goes on between conventional till and no-till. With conventional till, we'll actually have to step up about four to six inches onto our no-till plots. So one of the things we decided to do was we decided to take that conventional till and turn it back into no-till and see how long it took to get the yields back to the no-till yields. And this is what we've seen over the last five years. Now, there's rotated tillage. This was conventional till is now yielding lower than no-till, okay? And again, the strip-till treatments are actually yielding better than no-till in the corn system. This is continuous corn. Rotated corn, same sort of a thing although, not quite as much of an impact. And then the soybeans, we see this kind of thing here. Okay, I'm gonna stop here. I was gonna try to talk a little bit about silver bullets 'cause there's a lot of them out there right now. And the bottom line here is my recommendation with all these different products that are out there, is to try them, okay? But when you buy the product buy the smallest jug you can buy and it out there in a test but don't put it over your whole farm. If it's a good product, it will be back next year. And but there's a lot of these silver bullets out there and I'm not gonna go into that. I just wanna finish up with this slide here and again, kind of come back to some of these decisions. Some of these decisions are really big. Hybrid selection, fertilizer, pest control. You can have really big yield swings with that. Some of these are a lot smaller. Things like row spacing, fungicide use some of the seed treatments that are out there. They're not as important. Even some of the traits that are out there. If you can live with growing corn conventionally there's no reason why that won't work as well out there. So anyway, I'll leave you with this. This is kind of the range that we see with profitability and yield impacts. And with that, I'll stop, Eric. You can contact us at these different things and I'll stop there. - All right, great, thank you very much, Dr. Lauer. I'm gonna open things up. We do have a few questions already in the Q&A but if you have been holding on to your questions for the end here feel free to go ahead and type those in right now. So let me just go ahead and start. Joe, are there any studies where cover crops are introduced to help with weed pressure in between the rows and the effect on yield? - Yeah, in that corn-soybean-wheat trial we did a lot of cover crop work. Lindsey Chamberlain, Shawn Conley student did a lot of work with cover crops. And I would say the results were mixed in that in the northern Corn Belt our challenge is the amount of growing season after corn and soybean harvest. The only thing that can really grow very well is really winter rye. We had oats, we had berseem clover, we had red clover we had winter rye and then we had a combination of turnips and kind of a mix within that experiment. And it was very difficult getting the crops to establish. When we did, yeah, we had good weed control and suppression of of weeds and things in there. But our challenge really was getting those cover crops established. And I would say you're probably better off concentrating on residue management sometimes than you are on cover crop with the exception of winter rye. Winter rye, we were really able to get that going even planted fairly late. - Okay, another question. So tar spot has been kind of a bugger, I would say for the last four years or so over here. And it seems like it's more on the west side of Michigan southwest corner as we get further into the center. In the east side, not as many people are finding it. what's your experience in Wisconsin? Fungicide use, anything like that? - Yeah, we've only had one major impact of tar spot in Wisconsin in our southwestern part of the state and that was the first year everyone kind of got it. Since that time we really haven't had much of an impact. It's around, it's always been around. I mean, tar spot is not a new disease it's always been around but it really flared up recently. And so, we haven't really worried about it but I know as we've gone east in the Corn Belt Michigan, Indiana places that's more of a concern over that way. I don't know, I'm not a big proponent of a lot of fungicide use out there because we typically with diseases in corn are able to stay ahead of disease just with the genetics and the breeding of corn. Although, I will say that as you start to breed for traits and all the different things that corn have now it's probably getting more challenging to do that. But we've typically controlled diseases in corn through genetic resistance. And I would expect that that's going to be certainly the most economical way to do it in the future. And again, we haven't had the environments where we've seen it flare up like the Eastern part of the Corn Belt has over the last few years. So, Damon Smith, our plant pathologists here in Wisconsin has got a very big project on that. And I know he's cooperating with a number of pathologists around the country trying to get a handle on that. So that's all I can tell you. - Are there any silver bullets? You kind of talked about that a little bit but are there any silver bullets that you've seen benefit or a possible benefit? Which one would you prioritize? I kind of like that second to the last screen that you had up that sort of ranked what order. You can feel free to share that again if you want. - Sure. - Hormones versus microbes or anything else that you've tried over the years. - This is really an important thing because companies have invested a lot of money in a lot of these products. The trouble that we run into is that most of the, what you might call silver bullets are defensive in nature rather than offensive. In other words, it's really hard to take a product and increase yield. Now, there are some things like the drought tolerant gene obviously, fertilizers, that sort of thing. But when we start to get to enzymes and microbes and that sort of a thing it's very difficult to again, have an offensive kind of a product that increases yield. It's much easier to be defensive in other words, protect yield that's out there. So when we start talking about biologicals and some of the other things companies have spent a lot of money developing these things and they probably are something worthwhile to look at. And so and as a university system we can't test all of them at all the rates. I've tried this. Try do it every year. Actually, I take one product and we test it across all the 14 locations where we do our research. But I can't ever stay ahead of it because first of all, there's not a lot of funding to do it but it changes all the time as well too. So again, rather than saying, "No, they don't work." What I recommend growers do is really to try it and buy and do a good test with it even work with your extension staff or the agents in your area to put out a good test with these products. And it might work for you. Again, we just can't stay ahead of this ahead of what's going on right now. But when you do try it buy the smallest jug you can buy and invest as little as you can in it. And like I said, if it's a good product it will be back next year. But again, the overall principle here is, is that it's very hard to be offensive in terms of products. It's much easier to be defensive to protect yield. And if you really wanna it try the smallest amount that you can and put out a good test working with others and the agents to really evaluate whether it fits on your farm. So that's how I'll answer that. - Yeah and if you're trying something new especially, if it's a small amount you're looking at smaller acreage. Definitely if you can try to put those out in strips instead of... I mean, anything is better than nothing but if you can put out a replicated strips instead of just one half of the field versus the other. And then again, like Joe said work with someone from extension or one of your seed dealers who can work with the stats. That'll help you to get at that question a little bit better. I've got a few other questions. Let's do one logistical one here. So Joe, they're wondering about the slides. We will have the video available so everyone can feel free to look at that but are you okay with sharing a PDF of your slides? I know not all of our presenters will be but. - Yeah, no, I can do that, that's fine. - Okay, you've got a lot of sandy areas like we do in kind of our southern tier here. Asiatic garden beetle, any experience with that? Any ideas what insecticides might I control-- - Yeah, I will leave that to Brian Jensen or some of our entomologists here. I wouldn't feel comfortable answering that question. Brian would know. I'd call him on the phone to help answer that question. - Okay, yeah and Chris DiFonzo our entomologist has worked quite a bit and I'm sure will be working again this year down in the Southwest on Asiatic garden beetle. And so, she'll be a good one to reach out to as well. A compendium of non-traditional materials is this still around? There used to be one, is it updated? - Yeah, it was our NCR-103 that John Sawyer used to (indistinct). If I was going try to find that I think it's still there but just Google NCR-103 and that has a list. But again, that compendium is relatively out of date because of all the activity that's going on with reputable companies developing all these different products. And the university system really I don't think has been able to keep up but if there's anything that's a clearing house for information on that, that would be the one. And I know John is... I don't know if he's retired yet or not but that's where it was. NCR-103 it was the name of that website, so. - So I've got a few questions that are interesting ones so I'm gonna pose them sort of as a group. Cornelius is on and he says, he's a late bloomer farmer and wants to know if there's an heirloom corn seed that grows in Mississippi and is also flavorful. - Flavorful, I know some and there are heirloom corns in Wisconsin but not that would grow in Mississippi. One of the things that you'll find is that the northern Corn Belt has gotten more flint backgrounds and the southern tier states have gotten more what we call flour backgrounds. Dent corn is a combination of flint and flour corns. And as you keep going towards the equator you go from flours back to flints again. So you go from north. In the north it's flint then the flours and the flints down by the equator. But I don't know of anything about flavorful. And I dunno if he's talking about sweet corn versus something that might just have more flavor as a feed corn. Certainly there's a lot of sweet corn grown in the Southern in Florida. I mean, that's a huge market for us up here but-- - You're probably (indistinct) on the sweet corn 'cause his follow-up question is what's the difference between corn on the cob or sweet corn and corn used for popcorn and what seed corn might make the best popcorn? I mean, there's specific varieties of popcorn. - Sure, popcorn is all flint. It's all flint background. Sweetcorn usually has the what we call sugary endosperm in it and there are number of number of different sugary genes the super sweets. In Wisconsin here we have, I think probably the only sweet corn breeder left in the country, Bill Tracy. And he is probably released, I don't know 160 different hybrids or varieties of sweet corn. Basically, they have different genes in them. If you let them grow to maturity they actually never plump out. They actually start to have cracks developing and they become real wrinkled. And they're just very different from the dent corn varieties that are out there. And it's because of the sugary genes that are there. And like I say they don't even look like field corn at maturity is basically what I'm trying to say, so. - Gregory asks, he's got a six row, no-till planter with a fertilizer set up. What's the best bet for a pop-up? - Yeah, it doesn't have a fertilizer set up on it. Yeah, we did a fairly large trial. We finished it up last year. We did 10 locations three treatments, fertilizer treatments. An untreated check, a banded pop-up fertilizer with the seed and liquid. And then a starter two by two below the seed two inches to the side and two inches below the seed. And we did this for three years, 10 locations. We had 16 hybrids involved with that. And if you look at all the data basically, what we saw was a... It was about a two bushel yield swing between the untreated check and starter fertilizer. The pop-up tended to be a little bit lower yielding. But the point I wanted to make is that there wasn't really a lot of difference. And that's because in a lot of our fields we have fairly high phosphorus and potassium levels already. And so, we didn't see a lot of response. This is also true in all of the other starter and pop-up fertilizer trials that have been published lately. Dan Kaiser from Minnesota has published a very large trial as well. People in Iowa have not seen much of a response. Most university researchers are not seeing a response. Having said that, on every plot I put out I plant, we plant about 13,000 plots a year. Every plot I put out, I put out starter fertilizer with it. And that's because whenever we're on farmer cooperator fields they're using starter and if we don't, our corn looks just sick for about the first eight leaves. But by the end of the season those plants have caught up and there's really no yield difference at the end of the season. The only difference is visual at the beginning of the season. So we can't really recommend using banded fertilizers either starter or pop-up but yet I do it on nearly every plot I plant and it's just more, in my case more for insurance than anything else. So but we just don't measure a lot of response with a lot of the banded fertilizers at planting. - So Joseph had a follow-up question. I'm assuming it's to what you were just talking about. He's wondering what the soil type is. - Yeah, soil types are all over. We plant on sands, to clay loams, to silt loams they're just all over. I'm trying to remember if we saw more of a (indistinct) When have two sandy sites at Chippewa Falls and then Hancock and I'm trying to remember if we saw more of a response there because typically, if we were gonna see a response that's where we'd see it. But again, we're usually in fairly good fertility situations at the start anyway. So, usually at Hancock, we'll see striping that goes on kind of a temporary striping between the time that the seminal roots are dying and the nodal roots are taking over. It's about the V3, V4 stage on the sandy soil. And as those roots transition between the seminal and nodal root systems we'll oftentimes pick up a temporary nutrient deficiency striping or yellowing of some sort on those sandier soils. And I think that's where a banded fertilizer might help them a little more. - Okay, another question what's the best way to set up ground for no-till. Darren says, "Seen no-till soybeans "perform similarly to tilt "but I've not been able to achieve similar yields for no-till corn compared to tilled corn. Any advice there? - Okay. Yup, what I would really suggest on that and I think one of the best things you can do one of the skills you should really develop as a farmer is develop no-till skills. And I say that because right now we're at the start of a fairly good pricing kind of a year or so. So we're gonna be going after yield. Farmers are gonna be going after yield I think, probably this year. But in years where we the price isn't so good having those no-till skills you can really be more economically optimum a little easier, I think. And if I was going to try to set and learn that one of the things that I would do is always be doing no-till under rotated ground. So planting corn into no-till into soybean stubble is probably the best, the safest way to do it because we don't see much of a yield difference between conventional till and no-till there. It's only when we go into more and more years of continuous corn that we see the problems developing and the issues developing with yield in those situations. So, if I was gonna learn to do it if I was gonna kind of transition to it always be doing it in a crop rotation kind of a situation. Don't try to do it in continuous corn until you're comfortable with... And you're sure that you're able to do it. If I'm doing continuous corn then the chisel plow... We have so much residue nowadays and I think that really helps a little bit with emergence and getting that corn off to a better start. But again, if you're rotating you really don't need to be using tillage. - Okay, Dan asks any advantage to banding micronutrients down at a two by two or a pop-up? - Yeah, I don't know about that. I think the best guy to talk about well, there's actually two. The best person that's probably done the most work with that is Dan Kaiser in Minnesota. My experience has been just with PK kinds of starter fertilizers. We did have zinc in there and we did have a little bit of sulfur in our treatments. But we weren't testing combinations. So Dan Kaiser in Minnesota has done a lot of work on that. And also Carrie Laboski here at Wisconsin has done a lot of work with some of those different micronutrient things. And those would be the two people that I would talk to about that. - Okay, this is more of a weather sort of a question but El Nino, La Nina years do those come into play when you're determining what seed corn to plant or is really just have to do with your planting timing? - Yeah, that's a good question. Certainly, there are weather patterns that can occur. And I forget the weather guy from Iowa that I forget his name but he was always watching that occurring in the Pacific Ocean. The way I look at it is if you can tell me what kind of year we're gonna have I can adjust my management. So in other words, if I know I'm gonna have a drought I would lower my plant population. I'd get a drought tolerant, bio-engineered hybrid. I'd probably plant as early as I can so that I can take advantage of what water's in the profile that's there. So there are things that you can do to adjust your management a little bit. The trouble is, is that even if we know we've got an El Nino or a La Nina year coming up that ain't necessarily gonna be what actually happens at the point where... I mean we might see an overall drought a little bit pollination's huge for corn. And if we have a stress during that time that's gonna have impacts later on. And so, I think the overall approach to weather is really manage for the average. That's all we can do. And if we know we're gonna have a certain kind of a year yeah, we can adjust but the trouble is when we're planting we don't know what kind of year we're gonna have. So we need to really just be thinking about and managing for the average. And maybe we're certainly due for another drought. I mean, the last one was 2012 so usually every seven years. So this'll be year nine and we're probably due for a drought but I don't know if I'd change what I do from what I would manage it from the average. I think that's really where you have to be as we deal with weather, so, good question. Frankly, I don't know I guess is the way I'm gonna say that. - We had enough drought over for the last couple of years not long-term but I don't (indistinct). Well, folks, I wanted to respect Dr. Lauer's time. He's been gracious enough to hang around and answer all of our questions. If you have any follow-up questions for him feel free to send those off to me and we've got his contact information. We can either send that to you or forward on questions for him. So, Dr. Lauer, again, thank you very much for joining us, for sharing all your expertise and experience, really appreciate it. - Well, thank you, it's been a pleasure. I was telling my wife today I'm sure glad I'm not driving to Michigan four or five hours in this weather. But this is as good as sometimes we can get. I'd rather be in person to visit with people but sometimes this is all you can do, so, thank you.