Farmers are more than twice as likely to be motivated by how high they can get their yields than by lowering their cost of unit of production. That’s according to a recent survey Millennium Research completed for the Precision Ag Institute.
Seventy four percent of farmers strongly agreed that they are motivated to see how high they can get their yields, and many of them are paying keen attention to potential limiting factors, incorporating practices such as soil testing for micronutrients, or running side-by-side field comparisons, in order to make sure they are on the right track.
These panelists are ambitious, aiming for an average of 241 bushels of corn per acre. The US record high average corn yield was last year, at 171 bushels per acre (USDA). So it makes perfect sense that these growers say they are currently 76% of the way toward their ultimate yield goal.
So what is going to help them reach their yield goals? What do these growers think can be a game changer in increasing yields? What new technologies are they looking for?
The same things that got them here are going to help them reach the next level, they believe, as the most frequent answer to the question: What will help you reach your yield goals? “Better genetics.”
Game changers include even greater precision in the way they approach crop nutrient, moisture and field management, and a greater ability to detect and address potential yield limiters early, before they can restrain the yield potential of the crop.
While the confidentiality we promised during completion of the survey means we can’t share the names of the people who offer these thoughts, the results show growers are continually working on making record yields every year.
These responses come primarily from Midwest corn and soybean growers, so many farmers gave a nod to the impact of the weather.
“I don’t really like setting a ‘yield goal’ I use technologies like strip-till, precision planting equipment on the planter, y-drop and undercover from 360 yield center to maximize what I can produce in a given year based on growing conditions presented to me.” -IL grower
Growers want more ability to predict crop conditions and have more precise control on more of the inputs used by their crop to grow.
“Maturing the technologies available. Granularity to be able to manage product application to the same level we do seed (a sq ft). A game changer would be a practical method of varying nutrient formulation on the fly based on soil test zones and yield goals.” -NY grower
“The ability of the fertilizers to become plant available at the correct times of the year. At the same time having a system that can help you determine if another nutrient application is needed before the deficiency symptoms appear on the plant.” -ND grower
“A game changer is ability to manage water in the soil and sunlight falling on the plant. If I can manage the water, I can manage the fertility. Great value could come from the ability to precisely apply crop inputs within the root zone during the growing season without disturbing either the roots or the residue. We are growing sunlight factories remember.” -OH grower
Some growers point out that for all the advances in crop yields and agronomic science, there are still mysteries to explore in the soil. That soil characteristics and behavior can have a large impact on the ability of farmers to increase their yields, and that today, there is a time lag between being able to see a problem and being able to address it.
“To increase yields, we need a better understanding of soil characteristics. Ability to analyze crop needs more feasibly then tissue sampling.” -IL grower
“Nutrient placement, timing and needs management will help me reach my goals. Game changer….being able to measure and predict nutrients needs based on soil type, weather events and hybrid/variety response.” -WI grower
“I think I need to be able to optimize the amount of water applied as well as the nutrient levels in my orchards and keep them at optimal levels all year. A game changer would be real time monitoring and fertigation controlled by current soil samples.” -CA grower
Others point out that genetics in crops other than corn need to make the same advances corn has in the past 20 years. Not just the yield potential, but the ability of the crop to fight off the pests that are robbing yield potential now, as well as doubling potential yield through changing the shape of a crop.
“To reach my yield goal, soybean yields have to improve. Insect resistance traits would help. Plant growth stimulants may play a role. Finding a way to manage increasing corn residue would likely help too. Corn that would produce two good viable ears would be a game changer.” -IA grower
“Narrow row corn, newer corn and bean hybrids. Wheat with better disease resistance. More research on which cover crops have economic impact on cash crops.” -OH grower
Compaction is still limiting yields, and some growers would like to see equipment innovations that are able to reduce or remove soil compaction.
“I would like to see less compacting planting and harvesting equipment, esp. the combine. That could be a game changer.” -IL grower
“Game changer: apply products without compaction, ex. drone applied pesticides, economically.” -MI grower
Will we see drones able to apply pesticides economically? Will corn ever regularly have two ears? Can we learn more about the mysteries of soil and environmental interaction with crop genetics so that every acre is the most productive it can be?
That’s the type of technology these growers see as yield game changers. It’s a big challenge for industry and inventors alike. But rest assured, 74% of growers see increasing yield as the most important job they have.