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Published February 22, 2012, 06:33 PM

Corn, mindsets and higher yields

FARGO, N.D. — Steve and Scott O’Neill don’t promise area corn farmers quick or easy answers. But producers who “push the boundaries of production and challenge their mindsets” will be rewarded with much-higher yields than their less-flexible neighbors, Steve O’Neill said.

By: Jonathan Knutson, Agweek

FARGO, N.D. — Steve and Scott O’Neill don’t promise area corn farmers quick or easy answers.

But producers who “push the boundaries of production and challenge their mindsets” will be rewarded with much-higher yields than their less-flexible neighbors, Steve O’Neill said.

The O’Neills —brothers who operate the Corn Capital Innovations advisory company — spoke Feb. 22 at the North Dakota Corn Growers Association’s annual Cornvention in Fargo, N.D. About 225 people attended.

Interest in corn is strong both regionally and nationally, thanks to strong prices for the crop. U.S. corn acreage in 2012 is expected to be the highest since World War II, with many of the additional acres coming in the Upper Midwest, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Corn Capital Innovations, based in Olivia, Minn., 100 miles west of the Twin Cities, seeks to tailor the production, crop insurance, marketing and financial analysis of each individual farming operation to increase its profitability, according to the company. The presentation by the O’Neills in Fargo dealt only with production.

Corn Capital Innovations works with 200 clients in central Minnesota. Its goal is providing its clients with “20 percent separation,” or yields that consistently are 20 percent higher than those of their neighbors. That translates into 40 additional bushels per acre for farmers trying to harvest 200 bushels per acre, Steve O’Neill said.

Controllable variables

The O’Neills, fifth-generation farmers, distinguished between climate, weather and environment. They defined the three this way: Climate is what we expect; weather is what we get; the environment is what we make of it.

Too often, farmers allow memories of past years to influence planting decisions for the upcoming growing season, Scott O’Neill said.

“You can’t make predictions on how to raise your crop agronomically based on what you think is going to happen,” he said. “You as growers cannot continue to look back at what’s happened. You need to look forward.”

Farmers should view each corn field as a room in which at least some conditions can be controlled, the O’Neills said.

Crops are affected by a thousand variables, of which farmers can control 20, Steve O’Neill said.

“How do I control the 20 better than my neighbor? If my neighbor decides to control two right and I decide to control 10 right, guess what, who’s got the difference-maker right there,” he said.

Planting conditions key

Farmers often make the mistake of basing planting decisions on the calendar, not on soil conditions. Scott O’Neill said.

“Soil conditions are the No. 1 variable in increasing yields,” he said.

Farmers sometimes fear that the spring is slipping away and that they need to plant right away, even when soil conditions aren’t favorable. But farmers need to alter that mindset and wait to plant until soil conditions improve, O’Neill said.

Among the other variables that the O’Neills said farmers can control:

• Improving communication with their seed dealers.

• The speed at which a tractor and corn planter travels. For each mile per hour too fast that the planter moves, yields drop by 20 bushels per acre, the O’Neills said.

“Can you get all your corn acres in planting at 4, 4½ miles per acre? And what does it equate to on your bottom line? If you farm over 1,000 acres of corn, you’ll garner the ability to buy another planter and a tractor,” Scott O’Neill said.

• Applying nitrogen, a crucial fertilizer, multiple times in multiple forms during the growing season.

• Apply foliar fungicide to manage disease in corn.

• Harvest as soon as possible, even when the traditional mindset would say it’s too soon.

Being a top corn producer requires an ongoing commitment, the O’Neills say.

“The one sustainable advantage is to learn quicker and adapt faster,” Scott O’Neill said.

“This is an industry where each and every one of us needs to do 1,000 things 1 percent better, not an industry where you can do one thing and expect a 1,000 percent return,” he said.

More information: www.corncapitalinnovations.com.

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