2015 weather leaves verification results ‘all over the board’
By Ryan McGeeney
The Cooperative Extension Service
U of A System Division of Agriculture
- Summer rains, late planting affecting corn harvest
- Probably not a record year, but within long-term average for harvest
- County hybrid trial system providing consistent data on corn seed success
LITTLE ROCK — At about 540,000 acres and more than $400 million in value, corn may be the third-largest crop in Arkansas — but it’s also one of the most weather-dependent, and in 2015, the whims of nature are making it hard to tell how harvest is likely to pan out.
Kevin Lawson, extension corn and grain sorghum verification coordinator for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, said the results of summer flooding, strong winds and other weather events have taken a clear toll on some verification plots, while leaving others unscathed.
“I’m getting the numbers in, and they’re all over the board,” Lawson said. “It’s going to be a really rough year for yields, and it’s all weather-related.”
Arkansas corn has enjoyed three consecutive record-breaking years in average yields, topping out at an average 187 bushels per acre, according to a U.S. Department of Agriculture report published in June. But Lawson, who monitors corn verification plots around the state, said verification yields appear to be off by at least 10 percent from last year, despite a widely-contested projection from the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service of another record-breaking year.
“It’s rare for me not to cut over a 200-bushel average,” Lawson said. “I’ve got seven fields, and usually I’m up around 220 bushels per acre. This year I’m hoping to cut a 180 bushels-per-acre average, and even that’s going to be tough to do. So far, I’ve had one field go over 200. Everything else has been well below.”
Jason Kelley, extension wheat and feed grains agronomist for the Division of Agriculture, said that although weekly NASS crop progress reports are reflecting lower corn yields from the previous few years, the state will likely see an overall harvest that falls within a 5- to 10-year average.
“You have to think what we’re comparing it to,” Kelley said. “We had several record yields. This year is still pretty decent. Overall, we’re still getting some pretty respectable yields.”
Lawson said he has seen the effects of 2015’s wet spring, summer floods and occasional high winds in both the verification plots and standardized county hybrid trials, which help evaluate the performance of various corn hybrids in different areas of the state, and may provide a clearer picture of the state’s corn harvest potential.
In 2008, the Division of Agriculture changed the way it manages corn hybrid trials. In prior years, Arkansas growers and their respective county extension agents would request specific corn hybrids from seed companies with little or no coordination with neighboring counties. The resulting trial plots produced an exceedingly narrow snapshot of a hybrid’s performance in one location during one season — yielding a less-than-helpful predictor of how that hybrid might perform elsewhere in the region.
Lawson and other verification experts spearheaded a system in which the predominant corn-growing counties of Arkansas were organized into five regional districts, and the same selection of corn hybrids would by grown in every participating county in a given region.
“Instead of having all these variety trials that are strung out and all over the board, both growers and agents end up with a clearer idea of what works well in their area, and what doesn’t,” Lawson said.
“I’m not taking over the counties’ respective roles,” Lawson said. “I don’t tell them how to plant it or who to plant it with. I just coordinate it.”
Lawson said several seed companies donate one seed bag each of two requested hybrid varieties to each district. One bag of seed typically plants about 2.5 acres of corn, he said.
“It benefits the company with real-world trial data,” he said. “And if you’re a company that does real well in these trials, it’s worth a lot of points.”
During harvest, the hybrid trial plots are evaluated by bushel-per-acre yield (adjusted for moisture), the estimated number of plant stands per acre, the pounds-per-bushel test weight and other criteria, painting a much clearer picture of the overall performance of a given hybrid in a geographic area.
“It takes what was basically a non-replicated strip trial and replicates it,” Lawson said.
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Media Contact: Mary Hightower
Dir. of Communication Services
U of A Division of Agriculture
Cooperative Extension Service