Corn Trials in Caldwell County

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The United States Department of Agriculture published its first corn yield estimate in 1866. The corn yield was 26 bushels per acre. One bushel of corn weighs 56 pounds, so the average yield in 1866 was 1,456 pounds of corn per acre. This corn was open pollinated or sometimes called self-pollinated.

The corn yields were relatively constant, bouncing between 24 and 30 bushels per acre for the next 70 years. However, in 1918, scientists (plant breeders and plant geneticists) started experimenting with hybridization as a way to increase corn yields. These new hybrids were double-crossed hybrids and they did show promise for increasing yields. These new hybrid varieties were released in mid-1930’s. Farmers began planting these new varieties when they saw how yields could improve.

Increased yields were needed during World War II to help with the war effort. By the mid-1940’s, yields had increased to about 40 bushels per acre. Since the mid-1950’s, corn yields have been steadily increasing at a relatively constant rate of 1.9 bushels per acre.

This year, 2017, the average corn yield for North Carolina was 142 bushels per acre. To compare this with yields at the turn of last century, it would take 5.2 acres of corn to produce the same amount of corn grown on one acre today.

In 1908, the Ford Model T could travel 21 miles on a gallon of gasoline. If today’s automobiles increased efficiency at the same pace as farmers have improved corn yields, cars today would get an average of 110 miles to the gallon.

The American farmer is truly a model of efficiency. These improvements in corn production have been incremental improvements each year. One of the continuing driving forces behind this increased production is the various improvements.

To help local farmers continue improving, the Caldwell Extension Center participated in a corn variety trial.

This involved 17 different varieties that were grown in the same field. The varieties were harvested and the yields compared.

corn field

An image of the corn trial just before harvest. The slight color differences between the varieties is noticeable.

These same corn varieties were also grown in Forsyth, Iredell, Rowan, and Wilkes Counties. This variety trial allows farmers to see how corn varieties perform in the western piedmont region of North Carolina.

The Caldwell variety trial was planted adjacent to Pennell Street across from the United Presbyterian Church in Lenoir. The city greenway actually wraps around two sides of the field.

The cooperating farmer on this research project was Mike Willis. We used his land and equipment to plant and harvest the different varieties. We also had help from Crop Production Services (CPS) to weigh the yield from the different varieties.

The average yield from the entire variety trial was 183 bushels per acre. The top variety, DeKalb DKC67-44, yielded 212 bushels per acre. Dekalb was originally formed in 1912 in DeKalb, Illinois, by a group of farmers, bankers, and newspapermen. It was actually founded by the DeKalb County Soil Improvement Association. The company was started due to a lack of seed laws and the desire for superior seeds. Although DeKalb is now owned by a larger company, I’d like to think the original founders would be proud of the progress that has been made.

Caldwell County farmers grew about 1,300 acres of corn last year for a total of 176,000 bushels. Caldwell County ranks 59th in corn production for North Carolina. The top producing corn county in the state is Robeson County. They grew 8,940,000 bushels of corn on 70,000 acres.

To learn more about this variety trial, visit https://caldwell.ces.ncsu.edu.