ROW BY ROW / April 2017
How much is corn yield costing you
Today’s tight profit margins in corn are pressuring farmers to cut costs, gain efficiency and do whatever possible to maximize yield and get the most revenue out of their crops.
In order to maximize crop yield, it’s important to know the many factors that can limit it. Once you understand these factors and their potential cost in terms of “lost yield,” you can take the needed steps to minimize their impact, according to Fenton, Iowa, farmer and Dragotec USA president Dennis Bollig.
“Every year, your goal should be to maximize crop yield, and to do that, you need to grow and capture every kernel you can,” he says. “And when prices are lower, the value of maximizing yield is even more important, because each kernel represents a higher percentage of your profit potential.”
Yield Loss Costs
Here are a few common causes of yield loss and their estimated price tags.
1) Planting losses
Planting the right seed with the right equipment in the spring is vital to getting a corn crop off to a good start. But, limited availability of the right hybrids for your specific field and environmental conditions and variability in those conditions can cause yield loss from the time it’s planted.
“We are pushing corn genetics to get the highest return on investment, but you have to have the right equipment to handle the highly variable conditions you’ll face in the spring,” Bollig says. “Yield loss is possible from day one, and it’s important to match corn genetics with the conditions when planting.”
Planting at the wrong time or at the wrong depth can lead to early yield loss potential, as can planting a corn hybrid with traits that aren’t optimized for specific field conditions. These and other agronomic and mechanical causes add up to a loss between 8 and 10% of yield potential during planting, according to a report from the University of Missouri.
- Potential cost of yield loss: $63/acre.
2) Fertilizer losses
Applying nitrogen fertilizer at the wrong time, in the wrong conditions or in the wrong amount can be costly, creating yield loss up to 45 bushels/acre, according to a report1 from University of Missouri Extension agronomist Peter Scharf. Much of that yield loss stems from crop variability caused by inconsistent fertilizer applications.
“Today’s corn genetics and higher plant populations have us pushing soil fertility. But, we have to be smart about how we apply fertilizer,” Bollig says. “Applying nitrogen in the wrong conditions can cause plant variability across the field and potential yield loss from the time that fertilizer is applied all the way to harvest.”
- Potential cost of yield loss: $157.50/acre.
3) Downed corn losses
Because of variability in harvest conditions, yield loss potential is high at the end of the season, especially in downed or lodged corn. A combination of environmental conditions and machinery that can’t adjust well to downed corn can cause up to 30 bushels/acre of loss, Bollig says. Much of that potential loss lies exclusively at the corn head.
“If you’ve got lodged or downed plants and the corn head can’t get it, you have the potential to lose a big part of that yield,” Bollig adds. “It’s normal to lose anywhere from 5 to 30 bushels/acre in severe conditions. It all depends on the ability of that machinery to get it.”
- Potential cost of yield loss: $17.50 to $105/acre.
4) Kernel and ear loss at the head
There are multiple ways to lose yield at the corn head. Kernel loss can range greatly, starting from less than 1% and can easily go to 4% with improper deck plate settings. Ear losses can happen through the deck plates as well, especially when there are small and even large ears bouncing out of the head. These losses can account for two to four bushels/acre of the total crop. And while that may not sound like much, the value of those bushels can add up quickly, especially factoring in acreage over the lifetime of a corn head.
“Shelling loss at the corn head alone can cause up to 4 bushels/acre yield loss during harvest and can contribute to losses ultimately into the double-digits,” Bollig says. “Even just a one-percent loss can easily add up to 2 bushels per acre.”
Overall, Bollig says between shelling losses, ear bounce and other factors, a farmer can potentially lose between 10 and 20 bushels/acre in yield from the corn head alone.
“Add in the likelihood that you’ll probably have one year of additional loss from downed or lodged corn with the same head — say five years — and that number can get into the $20,000 to $50,000 range for an entire farm operation,” Bollig says.
“Even if you can save $40,000 when buying a common corn head the cost of lost yield can add up pretty quickly. If it causes you to lose too many bushels, considering the yield loss potential, it’s important to have a corn head that can handle all the different conditions at harvest just as well as a planter can handle similar variability in the spring,” Bollig adds. The equipment choices you make can really make a difference.”
- Potential cost of yield loss: $35.00 to $105.00/acre over 5 years.
The ‘Successful Frame of Mind’
Just like the corn market itself, the loss of yield potential and its cost will fluctuate over time. But, there is one constant: The farmer should do everything possible to minimize that loss. Though the focus on potential yield loss sharpens in times of lower prices, it’s important to make it a priority every year.
“It’s the farmer’s responsibility to minimize potential yield loss. To do that,start with the variables that affect your specific crop yield and revenue the most. Corn left in the field doesn’t help pay the landowner, the bank, or any of the expenses you incur to raise that crop,” Bollig says. “Most farmers are in this business for the long haul, and they should work to maximize yield and get every kernel of corn out of the field, whether it’s high- or low-priced. That’s the successful frame of mind for farmers.”