Farming Amid An Ag Tech Shift

Nor' east Thinkin'

Ag technologies are chaning farming via next-generation energies in many cases. Here's part of what I shared at a recent farmers' club.

Published on: March 27, 2013

At a recent farmers' club, I confessed that I sold our family farm to my cousin. So credential-wise, I was a former farmer – but still a wanna-be.

My proudest accomplishment was in 1989, when we had a whole farm average corn yield of 209 bushels an acre. While it was on only 190 acres, it was one of Iowa's highest whole farm averages. And there were solid agronomic reasons for it.

Our management scheme was simple: My cousin did all the work. And, I helped him manage the fertility program and hybrid selection . . . and told him what he was doing wrong. Somehow, it worked.

The key was intensive soil testing, and bringing up low-testing spots. In today's terms, it was grid-mapping and prescription application – sweat work. But when the neighbors wanted me to help with their corn, I resolved they couldn't pay me enough to justify more treks to Iowa during summer.

I became an editor because I couldn't think fast enough to be a farmer. I'm still handicapped by a foot-dragging mind. Just last year, for instance, I finally got a smartphone. And I'm taking Remedial Smartphone 101 For Dummies – for the 3rd time!

However, I've retained my passion for growing high-yield corn. And as part of my work, I've been blessed to spend time with and learn from some of America's absolute best corn growers. One of them is featured on American Agriculturist's April cover story.

David Wolfskill's national and Pennsylvania corn yield contest entries were well above 300 bushels per acre. His whole farm yield average is about 200 bushels.

With today's technologies, a great many farms can top 200-bushel average yields in a good year. You can read what this Wernersville, Pa., grower does in the magazine or in the "magazine online" version at www.americanagriculturist.com .

Much is happening in Northeast

Here are a few things I shared with that farmers' club:

  • As a result of higher corn and soybean prices, a lot more corn will be planted this spring. It's a no-brainer.
  • Higher net returns are bringing more young farmers back into farming. I'm talking about young, young farmers –24 to 30 years old – not old young farmers. And, more of them are coming home with technical degrees in engineering, systems management, and etc.
  • Coming with them is a more rapid adoption of newer technologies – automatic down-force on planters, row-by-row variable-rate seed drop control, crop sensor control of sprayer N rates and crop growth stimulants. These changes are driven by higher crop returns and a stronger self-driven desire for better environmental stewardship – not just regulatory pressure.
  • This winter, I've seen more stands of old firewood and scrub trees being pushed out to create more cropland. Old fence and tree lines are giving way to larger row-crop fields – driven by much improved machine efficiencies.
  • One of the favorite tools of older Master Farmers is the bull dozer. Reason: Machine efficiency of larger equipment runs circles around smaller equipment in acres per hour and even labor cost per hour. University of Minnesota Ag Engineer Bill Lazarus has excellent data on it – accessible on the web.
  • Hitching that dozer to a laser-guided tile plow takes you to another phenomenon I'm seeing. Laying parallel tile lines as close as 20 feet on clay soils is increasingly popular.
  • Another way to remedy slow-to-drain spots and speed whole field operations is to simply backhoe a 6- to 8-foot long trench to tile-line depth, and fill it with 57-grade limestone. It can improve drainage on as much as two acres. It'll reduce weather delayed operations and soil compaction. Even if you might till through it, I'm told that it'll last 10 to 15 years.

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