Consider the possibility: 480 bushels of corn per acre.

Pie in the sky? Science fiction? Wishful thinking?

Maybe not, says Texas AgriLife Extension agronomist Brent Bean.

“Some experts estimate the yield potential for corn to be about 480 bushels per acre,” Bean said during a grain seminar at the Blackland Income Growth conference in Waco. “A farmer made 312 bushels per acre last year in the Texas Panhandle in spite of the drought and record heat.”

He said Monsanto has stated a goal of doubling yields and decreasing production cost significantly by 2030. Other seed companies are also working toward yield-enhancing technology.

Reaching that yield potential will include selecting good genetics but also will demand that farmers protect that potential once the seed is in the ground.

Yield reductions come from abiotic losses such as drought, as well as from biotic losses such as weed competition and damage from insects and diseases.

Transgenic hybrids have already contributed to increasing corn yields and will continue to do so, Bean said. Adoption of GMO corn has lagged soybeans and cotton a bit. “Soybean adoption is at 91 percent, cotton is at 88 percent and corn is just more than 80 percent.”

Texas yields have trended up for the last decade, averaging an increase of 2.2 bushels per acre a year. “In the Panhandle, where yields are typically higher than in other parts of the state, that 2.2-bushel-per-acre-per-year average still holds,” he said. Last year’s drought might slow that a bit but the upward trend should remain.

Watch Resistance

But he cautions producers not to become complacent and noted that Iowa corn farmers have detected some corn rootworm resistance to transgenic corn. The resistance has been to the single CryBb1 toxin. “We need to be diligent in avoiding the development of insect resistance,” he said. “We need to adapt some of the same strategies we use for avoiding weed resistance and apply them to insect control. This means rotating corn hybrids with different modes-of-action for controlling a particular insect or use hybrids that are stacked (pyramided) with multiple modes of action.

“But more technology means more cost, so farmers should ask themselves which traits they really need. That will depend on rotation and field conditions.”

He said more transgenic traits are coming, including hybrids with improved nitrogen efficiency. “Everyone is working on it,” he said. “The latest projection indicates 2018 as the earliest release date.”

Hybrids with improved nitrogen use efficiency, Bean said, would boost yields under normal growing conditions and stabilize yields in less than normal conditions. “It will be interesting to see how that works.”

He said seed companies have recently released their first-generation drought-tolerant hybrids. “That will be an important factor for Blacklands farmers and dryland corn,” he said. “Plants will still require water.” But drought-tolerant hybrids may suffer less yield loss under moisture stress than conventional hybrids.

Bean said Pioneer has AquaMax; Syngenta has Artesian; and Monsanto has DroughtGard hybrids with drought tolerance. Monsanto’s selections are transgenic; Syngenta and Pioneer drought tolerant hybrids are from conventional breeding programs.

Bean said Texas AgriLife 2011 tests showed drought tolerant hybrids “generally performed better than conventional corn when stressed.” Plant population also affects response. These new drought tolerant hybrids may very well require a higher plant population than what farmers are used to planting.

Bean also commented on a new option for weed control in grain sorghum.

“Huskie herbicide from Bayer is the best product I’ve seen on broadleaf weed control in 30 years,” he said.

Trials have shown 95 percent control of pigweed and nearly 100 percent control with the addition of a half-pound of atrazine. “Even with bigger pigweed, up to 15 inches, we’ve seen 85 percent control,” he said.

Crop safety, Bean said, is also good. “Farmers may see some speckling or burning on the leaves but sorghum grows out of it very quickly.”

 “Also, let sorghum get to a 4-inch to 6-inch height before applying.”

Bean said the cost of the herbicide is approximately $9 to $10 per acre. He encourages farmers to try it. “I’d also recommend adding a half-pound of atrazine, especially to larger weeds and to add a little soil residual,” he said.