Southern crop yields are up, up and away

Four-hundred bushels of corn per acre in south Georgia, more than 100 bushels of soybeans per acre in Arkansas, 7,000-plus pounds of peanuts per acre throughout the Southern Peanut Belt, cotton topping 5 bales in the Mid-South …the list goes on.

Crop yields in the South are shattering records left and right, and the possibilities seem limitless. Much of the credit is going to improved varieties and rightfully so. Genetic improvements continue to occur at a dizzying pace, and producers are more than willing to test the mettle of these new hybrids in the most challenging situations.

Farmers in the lower Southeast got their first real taste of high yields on large scale during the 2012 growing season, when Georgia’s peanut crop smashed all records with an average yield of 4,550 pounds per acre.

Even this year, when it was feared that late planting and excessive rainfall might have a negative impact on overall yields, peanut producers in the state are expected to average just under 4,000 pounds per acre, quite an achievement when you consider how many fields were washed out by record-high rainfall amounts.

This is how yield records get broken?

So what does this tell us? For one, improved hybrids definitely can take a punch and still produce decent or even above-average yields. But it also says volumes about what is possible if these genetically modified varieties are combined with ideal growing conditions and meticulous management. This is when records are broken.

In a study conducted in southwest Georgia’s Baker County in 2012, Extension agents and specialists  looked at the genetic potential of the widely planted Georgia-06G cultivar. The theory was that even with yields of 4,000 to 5,000 pounds per acre, much more was possible, and the theory was proven correct.

The study revealed that if growers follow a three to four-year rotational plan, utilize new peanut fungicides, use a computer irrigation scheduler such as IrrigatorPro, provide adequate fertility, and use deep tillage, 7,000 pounds of peanuts per acre is a realistic goal in most years.

The key was to change production practices to accommodate the yield potential of the improved cultivar. Three peanut farmers who adopted the recommended production practices increased yields from 5,500 pounds per acre – not too shabby – to 7,000 pounds.

400-bushels-per-acre corn yield barrier cracked

South Georgia farmer Randy Dowdy, a grower who has captured the imagination of farmers throughout the region with his uncanny ability to produce record-breaking corn yields from soils that could be described as less than ideal.

While the numbers from the National Corn Growers Yield Contest were not official as of press time, the word is that three U.S. growers officially broke the 400-bushels-per-acre yield barrier in 2013, including Dowdy, who set a goal this year of 400 bushels per acre, got slammed by some of the worst weather conditions in decades, and then promptly met his goal. No problem.

But, as is most times the case, it wasn’t as easy as it may have looked. Randy is the first to extol the virtues of improved varieties, but he also cautions that it’s not the be-all and end-all when it comes to making high yields.

The same variety that made his best corn yields in 2011 and 2012 also made his worst yields this year. The difference, he says, was in the planting date and in the stage of growth during stressful periods of low sunlight and high rainfall.

Like any exceptional farmer, Dowdy closely observed the events of this past year and is already planning for 2014. While he has always planted multiple hybrids, he’ll take it to a whole new level next year. He’ll still attempt to plant all of his corn acreage over a week to 10-day period, but he’ll spread his risks more, over relative maturities and with different plant populations.

In other words, it still comes down to good management. These genetic wonders aren’t to the point to where they’ll grow by themselves, unaffected by poor weather conditions and/or neglect.

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