Flashback podCALS: This was originally published in April 2014.
Joe Lauer, Professor
Department of Agronomy
UW-Madison College of Agricultural and Life Sciences
3:05 – Total Time
0:18 – Three changes in corn production last 20 years
0:36 – Reduced erosion potential
1:21 – Better nitrogen management
1:55 – Greatly improved insect management
2:31 – Crop rotation is free yield
2:56 – Lead out
Sevie Kenyon: Joe, how has the production of corn changed in the last twenty years?
Joe Lauer: Corn production’s changed in the last twenty years or so really in three areas. One is in the area of soil erosion; the other is in fertilizer management – especially nitrogen, and then finally pesticide applications for the corn crop.
Sevie Kenyon: What kinds of things have changed to help grow corn with less erosion?
Joe Lauer: Well one of the things that had been going on has been the development of no till practices that allow the land to keep a residue, a mat or residue, on the soil surface. That prevents the energy from raindrops and melting snow from eroding soil off the field, and basically keeping that soil in place. And corn is a great residue producer, it not only produces great yields for grain, but it also produces very good residue that can be used to manage those fields and prevent erosion. The data that comes out of the USDA, NRCS, indicates that there’s somewhat more than about thirty percent less soil erosion now than there was twenty years ago.
Sevie Kenyon: What’s changed with fertilizer management?
Joe Lauer: Well, we used to put on I think about twenty years ago, quite significantly higher rates of nitrogen. So that’s one change that’s been going on. We find that the economic optimum for producing corn is significantly lower than it was twenty years ago. The other thing that’s happened with nitrogen has been the advent of stabilizers and nitrification inhibitors. Products that are put on allow it to be taken up and used by the plant much more efficiently than it was twenty years ago.
Sevie Kenyon: Joe, what has changed in the pesticide area that has improved corn production?
Joe Lauer: Twenty years ago we probably would put on pounds of various pesticides on an acre of land. Nowadays we’re putting on a lot more benign chemicals, and we’re talking about ounces of pesticides on land. This is largely due to the fact that we have genetically modified crops out there that allow the production of natural pesticides that really has allowed us to again reduce the rates, but also use much more of a benign type of pesticide out there.
Sevie Kenyon: And maybe Joe you can visit a little bit about cultural practices such as rotation?
Joe Lauer: I always talk about rotation can increase your yields anywhere from ten to twenty percent, and I call it free yield, just by rotating your crops. Generally in the Midwest we have what’s called a corn-soybean rotation, and then what we’re finding in our data is that if you can add a third crop to that rotation like wheat or alfalfa, that addition of that third crop benefits all the crops in the rotation.
Sevie Kenyon: We’ve been visiting with Joe Lauer, Department of Agronomy, University of Wisconsin-Extension and the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, Madison, Wisconsin, and I am Sevie Kenyon.