HOLLAND, Iowa (AP) — Dale Launstein is in hot pursuit of high corn yields.
The rural Holland farmer has a lofty goal of averaging 300 bushels of corn per acre. Launstein and five other producers in the Corn Belt are participating in a new program to make it happen, and they will document their efforts for farmers and consumers.
The Mosaic Co., a fertilizer maker in Plymouth, Minn., introduced an initiative called "Pursuit of 300: The Road to Higher Yields" at the Farm Progress Show in August. The idea is to create the next generation of cropping systems through innovation and shared information gradually to increase yields to feed the world's burgeoning population.
Launstein, who farms 2,850 acres with his father and brother, has been working toward a 300-average for some time. He believes the once unthinkable milestone can be achieved, but it will take careful planning, intense management and a willingness to adapt.
"It's going to change the theory of plant it, let the co-op spray and go to the lake," Launstein said. "You have to be willing to invest in yourself."
The pursuit will focus on six 100-acre plots for a full production year, and possibly beyond. Launstein, along with farmers in Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Minnesota and Nebraska --- working in conjunction with agronomy and soil experts --- will continually update digital journals next year concerning management decisions and outcomes. Everything from seed and fertilizer applications to weed and insect control will be scrutinized.
The information, along with pictures, will be available at www.Pursuitof300.com. Pictures and data from Launstein's 2012 harvest are available on the site.
Kyle Freeman, manager of new product development for Mosaic, said the idea for the program was formulated last summer as the drought spurred worries about food shortages. Company officials surmised an open dialogue between farmers, ag retailers and seed and equipment companies — which sometimes is stifled because of business competition — is needed to dramatically increase yields.
"Really what the pursuit is about is maximizing yield on each and every farm," Freeman said. "It's just not about growing 300 bushels, but sharing and communicating how you did it. Practices that can go across geographies across the Corn Belt."
Launstein said his 100-acre tract will be in a 320-acre field just east of Holland, which his father bought in 1970. Corn averaged 86 bushels per acre statewide that year, according to government data. Back then, Launstein said 200-bushel corn was a dream.
Despite the worst drought in 50 years, the third-generation farmer said the field averaged 225 to 230 bushels per acre this year. Even though the field is historically one of the family's most productive, the good yield fortified his belief averaging 300 bushels can be done.
"I think 300 is the new 200, but it will take time to get there," Launstein said.
Sustainable and profitable farming practices need to be used, Launstein said. And they need to be able to be implemented on a large scale.
The following are steps Launstein plans to take:
— Precision application of dry fertilizer in the fall, which is incorporated with corn stalks. Almost all of Launstein's acres are corn-on-corn. He said building up organic matter in the soil is crucial.
— Plant about 36,000 seeds per acre in 30-inch rows, with fertilizer to promote uniform development.
— Apply 240 to 300 pounds of nitrogen, with stabilizer, during the growing season in several increments. This ensures plants get nutrients when needed and reduces the chance of water pollution. Only do final application prior to tasseling if there's a potential to hit 300.
— Plant and soil testing is a must.
"That's basically it. Watch for disease or bugs and spray for anything to protect plant potential," Launstein said.
Getting more bushels does cost more. Launstein estimates an extra $140 in expenses compared to most cropping systems.
But the payback is worth it. Launstein estimates if he gets 280 bushels on the test plot this year, he'll need $3.93 per bushel to break even. If he gets 230 bushels per acre, the break-even cost will increase to $4.78 per bushel.
On Friday afternoon, December corn on the Chicago Board of Trade was $7.40 per bushel.
"There's money to be made at this level," Launstein said. "We'll learn what's economically viable and environmentally friendly."
Information from: Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier, http://www.wcfcourier.com