Remember when 200-bu corn yields sent a ripple through the country? And when 60-bu soybeans happened in university test plots, but not on farms?
Those numbers still make farmers sit up and take note. But the element of excitement is long past. Imagine, however, the buzz that will happen when somebody first boasts about averaging 60-bu soybeans and 200-bu corn over his whole farm.
It likely won't happen soon, but that's the goal of a small group of farmers in Illinois.
"It's probably not realistic at this point," says John Reifsteck, one of four farmers in the group. "A number of us were involved with research projects and have been collecting data with precision ag technology. We'd sit around and shoot the bull about what we were doing and finally we decided to formalize the meeting."
The result is a group that includes farmers, a half-dozen industry representatives and nine university researchers. Each farmer commits one field of corn and one of beans to use for tests each year.
"With precision agriculture a farmer can be more actively involved with research," says Reifsteck. "One of the neatest things about precision ag is farmers are starting to ask basic agronomy questions again."
That's reflected in the group's discussions to date. One meeting focused on seed treatments. At another they discussed nitrogen and its use, including basic questions like, what do you use for yield history?
You wouldn't think a group of guys could work up a lather over seed treatments. But when you are pushing for a 60-200 farm average, everything gets intense.
"We've had a few heated discussions, a few flames," says Reifsteck. "These guys aren't bashful. But, in most situations, the group finally comes to a consensus."
Some of the group's discussion is more philosophic.
"We've been seeing more variability between high and low yields," he says. "So you need to ask, is it more important to try and push your top yields, or focus on increasing the low yields? I also spent quite a bit of time looking at hybrids and varieties."
Reifsteck hopes the lessons learned through the group will help him push his 150-bu corn and 50-bu soybean yields closer to the goal.
"I'm frustrated by the fact I haven't been able to increase yields," he says.
The changes this Champaign, IL, farmer made his first year are hardly earthshaking.
"I went to a new-style manifold to get more even flow on anhydrous fertilizer," he says. "I bought my own seed treatment system. There's data to support treatment of early planted seed, particularly no-till."
It may be quite awhile before there are many members in a 60-200 Club. As Reifsteck says, "All the data we collect makes less difference than an inch of rain in July."
But that data eventually will help farmers make the most of that inch.