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U.S. corn yields up
The nation's corn crop will likely average 158.4 bu./acre in 2004, up from a record average yield of 142.2 bu./acre in 2003, according to the USDA. This year's 16.2-bu. jump is much more than the average 1.5-bu./acre increase in U.S. corn yields that typically occurs from one year to the next, says Jeff Volenec, Purdue University Extension agronomist.

"Although yields went up 16 bu./acre this year, this is not an accurate average increase across time," Volenec says. "The best indicator for future yield increases is 1.5 bu./acre, which is the long-term average increase, over decades, across a wide geographical area."

Good growing conditions are the main reason for any big yield jump from year to year, including 2004's big boost in corn yields, Volenec says. However, hybrid selection and management practices also play a part, especially over time.

"What we had this year was a very good environment for corn production across a wide area," says Volenec. "Some of the yield increase is a result of better genetics and more astute management, but the majority of the yield increase is weather related."

Weather will largely determine if the U.S. corn crop hits a third consecutive new high in 2005. "Looking at the historical data for U.S. corn yields over time (1960 to 2003), there are only four instances where yields increased in three consecutive years," Volenec points out. "That's only four times in 43 years, so it does happen, but it's more the exception than the rule."

For more information on the nation's upward trend in corn yields, click on this USDA link: www.usda.gov/nass/aggraphs/cornyld.htm.

The full selection of corn hybrids from Mycogen Seeds offers premier genetics and advanced seed treatments and traits. Like Herculex™ I Insect Protection for season-long protection against a broad spectrum of insects. Click here for more information. www.mycogen.com

Farm computer use grows
Half of all U.S. farms and ranches, more than one million total, now have access to the Internet, according to the USDA's 2002 Census of Agriculture. Slightly less, a little more than 800,000, use computers for their farm and ranch businesses.

For more information about computer use and the 2002 Census of Agriculture, log on to the following USDA site: www.nass.usda.gov/census/census02/quickfacts/computerusage.htm

Trend toward early planting boosts yields
Better hybrids and management practices have helped U.S. corn growers double their yields during the last 30 years and increase yields sevenfold since 1930. Properly managing soil fertility, drainage, compaction, tillage and pest control all contribute to good yields, says Jeff Volenec, Purdue University Extension agronomist, but planting early can also be an important factor.

"It is critical to have high amounts of leaf area present on the plants when the longest days of the year occur -- around mid-June for most of the Corn Belt," Volenec says. "Early planting (with favorable weather) permits extensive leaf area development, high photosynthesis per plant and high yield."

Early planting is an increasing trend "that helps get the crop going," Volenec says. "Over 90% of what a plant is composed of comes from photosynthesis, the remainder from soil nutrients. So establishing leaves and starting photosynthesis early helps convert more light into yields."

Given the right conditions, corn plants can yield much higher than the 158.4-bu./acre average that the USDA forecasts for 2004. Volenec says corn yield contests confirm that top hybrids can yield between 300 and 400 bu./acre under near perfect conditions, "but research models suggest that corn yields might have a theoretical maximum between 400 and 500 bu./acre."

Fall conferences
Fall continues to be the time for agricultural conferences to convene on various topics. Here are three that will begin in November.

The "New Frontier" conference on agricultural energy and products, including wind farming, bio-refining, bio-industry and fuel cells and hydrogen in agriculture, begins on November 9 in Brookings, SD. For more information, log on to this university Web site: sungrant.sdstate.org/anfconference.

The 34th North Central Extension-Industry Soil Fertility Conference starts on Nov. 17 at 1:00 p.m. and ends at noon on November 18 at the Holiday Inn Airport in Des Moines, IA. Topics include developing nitrogen recommendation systems and fertilizer placement in fall strip tillage. For more information, log on to the following university Web site: www.extension.umn.edu/cropenews/2004/04MNCN33.htm.

A conference titled "Marketing Strategies for Consumer-Driven Agriculture" will convene at 9:00 a.m. on November 4, at the Interstate Center in Bloomington, IL. Topics include value-added food products and direct marketing. For more information, visit web.extension.uiuc.edu/iidea/index.html.

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Corporate farm trend declines
Up until 1997, the number of corporate farms was steadily increasing without interruption. However, from 1997 until 2002, the number of corporate farms fell 18.4%, according to the USDA 2002 Census of Agriculture. Currently, individuals or families operate 90% of U.S. farms.

For more information about the 2002 Census of Agriculture, visit www.nass.usda.gov/census.

Report from the field
The corn harvest in most of eastern Iowa is off to a good start, according to Jeff Housman, Mycogen Seeds district agronomist. "The yields are better than expected and comparable to last year and the year before last," Housman reports. "That makes three solid years of good yields."

Earlier concerns over crop maturity and frost damage in northeast Iowa have mostly evaporated. "Almost everything was physiologically mature before frost came through," Housman says. "Test weights and drydown have been good and moisture levels are normal. Standability appears to be good, but farmers should still prioritize their fields to minimize potential field losses from any lodging that might occur."

In northeast Nebraska, corn is also yielding well, says Steve Keck, an independent crop consultant from Plainview, NE. "It's about an average to an above-average crop," he reports.

Dryland corn yields in northeast Nebraska are running about 40 to 80 bu./acre better than last year, Keck says. Irrigated yields are about 30 bu./acre less than last year, he adds.

"We lost some early-season nitrogen due to early, heavy rains," Keck says. "We also had too many cool, cloudy days to make optimal grain fill on our irrigated corn. On dryland acreage, yields varied considerably, depending on soil type and rainfall received."

Keck says he treated 60% of his clients' acres for western bean cutworm this year, but European corn borer populations were very light, with moth flights at their lowest level since 1985. Other than a little gray leaf spot, late-season rust and leaf blotch, disease problems have been minimal.

In Missouri and eastern Kansas, good weather has moved corn harvest along quickly, according to Jami Deters, Mycogen Seeds district agronomist. Harvest is about three-quarters finished, and yields are well above average.

"We're seeing 200-bu./acre dryland corn on fields that have never yielded more than 150 bu./acre," Deters says. "In Missouri, a lot of bottomland ground is pushing 270 bu./acre."

Deters says this year's corn crop has good kernel size, test weight and moisture levels, in both eastern Kansas and Missouri. "The cool summer has been ideal, giving us an extended grain fill period," he says. "In western Kansas, the crop isn't as fully developed because it didn't get the heat units."

Diseases and insect pests have been minimal for the area, he adds, with only some isolated incidents of corn borer infestations.

Trendspotting Web site
For more information about trends and conditions in grain corn production, log on to www.trendspotting.biz. While you're there, you can find answers to questions about your operation.

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