One year ago, my Think Different column addressed the topic “Why promote 500-bushel corn?” http://bit.ly/Promote500BushelCorn. My hope was to start a discussion about NCGA’s yield-only contest and its lack of recognition for the best nitrogen-efficient yields.
Since then, nothing happened (other than a few farmer comments, and this column winning the first-place award for best column at the recent American Agricultural Editors’ Association annual meeting). I didn’t expect much, especially when a farm writer questions a legendary corn yield contest and its many enthusiasts.
Now, I like many efforts and programs carried out by NCGA and its farmer members, especially their Soil Health Partnership program http://soilhealthpartnership.org. Unfortunately, the goals of this soil program – “to find positive changes for the profitability of farmer operations and the sustainability of the soil” – seem to be in conflict with a high-yield contest where the promoted champions often apply 400 to 500 pounds of nitrogen per acre.
So, this conundrum begs several questions: Is this contest in line with profitable operations and sustainable soils? Is it in line with the various state nutrient-reduction programs? Is it in line with water quality efforts in the Chesapeake Bay watersheds, or with all those farmers working to comply with the new Minnesota buffer program, or with farmer efforts in the Iowa counties being sued by the Des Moines Waterworks?
My unofficial Top 10
Like last year, I analyzed the same small subset (55 entries) of the NCGA 2015 yield contest (all national winners and state winners from top corn states of Iowa, Illinois and Minnesota only). In both 2014 and 2015, only one national winner cracked my unofficial Top 10 for best nitrogen-use efficiency. It is unofficial because not all state winners are included, the nitrogen use data is not verified for accuracy like yields, nor do we know soil test results, organic matter, cover crops, application rates/timing and other variables.
Yes it is subjective, based on two reported data points – yield and nitrogen applied. But, all this could be verified, and farmers could be awarded for their efficiency, giving the contest a whole new reputation.
Bottom line, I still hope we can all think different about how we judge yield winners, given the challenging issues that agriculture must deal with, to become more sustainable.
I sincerely thank you for reading, for viewing more valuable content on csdigest.com, for subscribing to our newsletters, and for being willing to Think Different.