Monday, December 23, 2013


"The chart tells a nice, short story of U.S. agriculture — particularly corn, one of its most important crops. For most of the 19th century, American farmers were able to produce more and more food by planting on ever more acreage.* By the late 1800s, however, yields had stagnated. Policymakers got nervous, and the federal government undertook a series of initiatives to boost U.S. food production — irrigation and dam projects to bring farming to desert areas, railroads to transport food to cities.

The major gains, however, began in the 1920s and 1930s, when scientists began breeding hybrid strains of corn with bigger ears that could bunch more closely together in the field. New industrial fertilizers that could satisfy corn's voracious appetite for nitrogen were also developed. Tractors and other mechanized tools appeared. As the chart shows, yields began skyrocketing. Corn could now be grown in areas that were once unthinkable, like parts of the Great Plains. As Paul Roberts explains in The End of Food, "between 1930 and 1940, the number of bushels of corn per acre doubled, and then continued to rise each year."
As the chart above also shows, however, even after the explosion of corn production, the agricultural system is still sensitive to extreme weather events. The drought in 1988 caused corn yields to take a big hit. This year's drought has caused another steep drop.(2012)
So far, these lurches haven't been a fatal problem. For the past half century, droughts in the United States have actually been relatively short and infrequent, thanks to increased rainfall driven by natural ocean cycles. Globally, meanwhile, agricultural yields have been growing at a stable rate. Technology has helped farmers overcome nature. "
Hybridization of corn is still one of my favorite blogs I've ever written.  That population curve amazes me every time I click on it.  Adapting those technologies enabled my family to buy the tenant farm they farmed and got me started on my own farm here, finally, ten years ago.
Reid's Yellow Dent played a big role in this technology.  It takes two really good, dissimilar inbreds to make a great F1 hybrid.  That's only the start of this revolution. 

Ohio enjoyed a very good crop of soybeans this year at 49 bushels per acre, according to my USDA report yesterday.  We were one of the best corn yields in the nation at 174.  Still, US production tops out around 160 bu and beans continue to stay in the 40's.  We raised those kinds of yields in the 70's here.

Have we really advanced that far in 40 years?

This guy doesn't think so.

What do you think?

Ed Winkle


  1. I always have to laugh when I hear GMO folks speak as if genetic engineering is the same as hybridization, like some fish can pollinate a corn plant or a monkey can have a meaningful relationship with a tomato blossom. The sad thing is, many people are so ignorant that they'll buy into it.

  2. That's what really gets me! Gene insertion is NOT the same as helping Mother Nature create a hybrid! It's obvious we are not doing a good job teaching biology and genetics.

  3. I really like the population growth explanation in the Hybridization of Corn blog.

  4. I toured a Monsanto facility a few years ago. And one thing I noticed that seems to be coming to light in all genetics is the "chipper" they are using to map the genetic makeup of the seed. It has greatly advanced the hybrids and bean varieties coming through the system. What used to take 5-7 years of natural selection can be 2 years now. I really think that is what is helping our yields. The traits are there to protect yields and not enhance them.

  5. Then why aren't yields going up? They look level to me and weed resistance is eating our lunch.


  6. Gee I thought my historical yields were going up. Of course I can't say much about beans as I haven't planted any in 9 years now. But one thing I did do was buy a plow. Since I have started plowing in the fall my yields have done a lot better. As well as weed control and plant disease.
    And weed resistance is going to eat your lunch with no really new chemistries coming out. Where by friend Bill is they are running a 3 pass program planned on beans to handle resistant waterhemp. They are resistant to both Glyfosate and PPO. He is obtaining control with 4-5 modes of action on the ground.
    Up here after plowing we don't see his issues. And genetics are getting better. We have debated on going to 20-22" corn to push populations but still can't see that advantage consistently.

  7. Did anyone noticed I put a picture up of my friends holding up two soybean plants in this blog that focused on corn? The kind of corn and soybean I plant on this farm is important and they do work together!