Using ‘Moneyball’ Tactics in Managing Corn Production

By now anyone who knows me is aware that I’m a fan of Moneyball and Sabermetrics. The ability to grind through a lot of data and have that data make sense by bringing it down to 1 number has revolutionized the game.

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Some of that can be brought over to farming. These days it’s so easy to be overwhelmed with new products (the words “revolutionary” and “game changer” make me sick to my stomach) and technology that you forget the basics. What if we bring those basics down to one number and manage them from the ground up.

Business visionary Peter Drucker once said you can’t manage what you can’t measure. So let’s get some simple numbers in corn production that we can identify, measure, and then manage.

13. If you are planting corn at normal speeds and at normal populations your planter is dropping 13 seeds per second…PER ROW. Let’s run the math real quick: 13 seeds per second, 60 seconds in a minute, 60 minutes in an hour, 24-row planter, divided by 140 (it takes about 140 ears to make a bushel) times $4/bushel. That corn planter is responsible for planting $32,000 dollars an hour in potential. That number can’t go up! It can only come down. It goes down as a result of many variables but usually it is because of planter performance. Take all the gizmos and gadgets and put them aside for a second. Are you giving your planter enough attention now that you understand how much money it is responsible for? Who’s driving the planter? How are they trained to run it right? Once those questions are answered we can now move on to planter attachments and fertility issues to make the number 13 stand out and perform for your bottom line.

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1.6.  What if we can find an extra 1.6 ounces (a tenth of a pound) of weight per ear? It seems like a small and manageable number doesn’t it? What would that do to our bottom line? 1.6 oz per ear and we have about 140 ears to make a bushel. And we were growing 200-bushel corn. Divide that by 16 ounces per pound and 56 pounds per bushel and we’ve found an extra 50-bushel per acre. At $4 per bushel we just added $200 per acre. How do we find this 1.6? Lots of ways — hybrid placement, fungicide applications, biologicals, micronutrients, etc. Test and learn on your farm to find ways to add 1.6 ounces per ear.

12. How can we get the crop to emerge within 12 Growing Degree Units (GDUs)? When I first started in precision ag we wanted to make sure that if we planted 34,000 seeds per acre we wanted to get as close as possible to having 34,000 plants emerge. As we went on it wasn’t enough to have plants but we wanted to have 34,000 ears of corn. Then we wanted “harvestable” ears rather than the small or “nubbin” ears. That led us to flag test emergence or to flag the day 1 emergers, the day 2, day 3, and so on. Which brings us to the number 12. How can we flag test our emergence and measure the performance by getting it to emerge within 12 GDUs? This keeps your yield potential very high and offers you confidence that the fields with the best emergence have the highest yield potential and can be pushed in terms of fertility.

So there you go. Fill in the blanks as you see fit. Some growers think their finger meters work just fine. Other farmers wouldn’t dream of letting the 50-year-old technology of finger meters in their fields. Maybe you need hydraulic down force, maybe you just need to tune in your soil finisher. It’s for you to decide but these three numbers will help you measure and manage things on your corn farm.

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