Alfalfa hay, alfalfa seed and small grains are the principle crops grown in Pershing County, Nevada. Alfalfa hay remains by far the most important crop, in terms of both acres harvested and value of production (Foster 2010). Small grains typically are grown for hay and are a rotational crop during the year(s) after an alfalfa field has been removed and when it is replanted. Small-grain hay crops are typically grown in an alfalfa production system but are often not profitable. Alternative rotational crops may increase the profitability of local farmers. Therefore, the potential of growing dented corn in Pershing County, as a high income rotational crop was investigated.
The objectives of this research project were:
- To determine if corn production could be a profitable rotational crop for alfalfa production systems in Pershing County
- To determine “Best Management Practices” for corn production in Pershing County (flood irrigation)
- To determine the optimum “Relative Maturity” corn variety for Pershing County
- To compare production yields of various corn varieties
Eleven corn varieties were compared. The comparisons included plant populations (plant density) per acre versus yield, and relative maturities versus yield and moisture content at harvest.
The trials were located at the Nevada Nile Ranch, Lovelock, Nevada, on Ryepatch Clay (0-1 percent slope), and Big meadow Silt Loam (0-1 percent slope) soils as described in the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service Web Soil Survey, Web Soil Survey.
Prior to planting the corn, the site had been cropped with alfalfa for six years. The trial was arraigned in a randomized, complete block design with two replications of each variety planted. Although, there were only two replications, 1.58 acres were sown to each variety, for a total study area of 17.38 acres.
The plot area was plowed, disced and leveled prior to planting on May 11, 2012. Planting was accomplished by a John Deere 7200 six-row corn planter. The seeding rate was set at 34,500 seeds per acre. Prior to planting, 250 pounds of 11-52-0 was broadcast on the trial area. During planting, 20 gallons of 7-17-7 plus four percent sulfur was applied per acre in liquid form.
The plots were flood irrigated beginning May 14, 2012 (three days after planting). The second irrigation was applied on June 8th (25 days after planting). Regular irrigations followed a 10 day schedule until June 24th, and then irrigations followed a 14 day schedule until Sept. 3rd when irrigation ceased. Total irrigation equaled 2.87 feet of water per acre.
A plant emergence check was performed on May 30th (19 days after planting). Four checks of 1/1,000 of an acre were evaluated per plot to determine the average plant population per acre of each treatment.
The plots were monitored weekly for growth stage, soil moisture and pest/disease levels. The plots were sprayed post emergence (June 1, 2012) with 16 ounces of 2,4-D and 40 ounces of glyphosate to control broadleaved weeds and volunteer alfalfa. Numerous pests were present in the study area, but none approached a population size that required control (i.e. economic damage threshold). Pests present in all treatments included aphids, corn earworm and birds. Beneficial insects, such as ladybird beetle larva, were also present.
The test plots were harvested on Nov. 16, 2012 with a 12-row John Deere S670 combine. Weights were determined with a test plot weigh wagon, and moisture content was determined with a hand-held moisture meter. Moisture content was checked three times per plot at harvest.
An analysis of variance (ANOVA) was performed on the variety means for plant population, yields and moisture content with mean separation at the <0.10 level. Table 1; list the treatments and their associated varieties and relative maturities.
Table 1. Corn Variety Treatments Compared in On-farm Research Plots, Pershing County, Nevada, 2012.
Seeds were planted at 34,500 plants per acre. Stand count average for all treatments was equal to 29,591 plants per acre. Significant differences between plant populations per acre (LSD = 1,775.47 plants/acre) are illustrated in Table 2.
Table 2. Plant Populations Comparison by Corn Varieties, Pershing County, Nevada, 2012.
*Treatments with the same letter are not significantly different at p<0.10
Also, plant populations per acre were compared to yields (bushels per acre). There was not a strong correlation between plant population and yields as indicated by the Pearson product-moment correlation coefficient of r = -0.089, as indicated in Figure 1.
Figure 1. Corn Plant Populations vs.Yields, Pershing County, Nevada, 2012.
* Correlation coefficient between yield and plant population equal -0.089.
There was a significant difference in yield by variety (LSD = 11.48 bushels per acre), with yields closely related to relative maturity days of the different varieties (except for treatment #1; DK 52-61 was a 102 day corn variety and was not significantly different in yield compared to treatment #6, which was a 111 day corn variety). Table 3 shows the average yield for each variety and figure 2 illustrates the Pearson product-moment correlation coefficient between yield and relative maturity of the treatments (r = 0.733).
Table 3. Corn Variety Yields (bushels per acre), Pershing County, Nevada, 2012.
*Treatments with the same letter are not significantly different p<0.10.
Figure 2. Corn Variety Yields vs. Days Relative Maturity, Pershing County, Nevada, 2012.
*Correlation coefficient between yield and relative maturity was equal to 0.733.
The high correlation coefficient indicates a relatively strong positive relationship between yield and relative maturity. A correlation coefficient of (r = 1.00) would indicate a direct one-to-one correlation between yield and relative maturity.
Percent moisture content of harvested grain was compared to the relative maturity of each variety in Table 4. There was a very strong positive relationship between percent moisture and the relative maturities of each treatment as indicated by a Pearson product-moment correlation coefficient of r = 0.938. Later maturing varieties routinely had haiger moisture content.
Table 4. Percent Moisture of Harvested Corn Varieties Compared to Days Relative Maturity, Pershing County, Nevada, 2012.
* Pearson product-moment correlation coefficient of r = 0.938.
The corn was sold to dairy operations located in Fallon, Nevada. An economic analysis was conducted to determine the profitability of growing corn in Pershing County, Nevada (Table 5). The following data reflects the typical income and costs of growing corn in Pershing County, specifically in the Lovelock Valley area. Total profit per acre was $822.46 over total costs. The income per acre was determined using the average yield of all treatments (217.4 bushels per acre). Higher yielding varieties would generate higher income per acre, compared to the lower producing varieties. Economic data was provided by Mike Phillips, manager of the Nevada Nile Ranch.
Table 5. Economic Analysis of Corn Production, Pershing County, Nevada, 2012.
The objectives of this on-farm research were to; determine the viability of corn as a potential rotational crop for alfalfa production in Pershing County, determine if corn production could be profitable in Pershing County, determine “Best Management Practices” for corn production in Pershing County using flood irrigation, determine the optimum “Relative Maturity” corn variety for Pershing County and compare production yields of various corn varieties.
Yields of the tested varieties ranged from 179.8 to 240.05 bushels per acre, with the overall mean average being 217.4 bushels per acre. Although this is just one year of data, the test plot yield average being 217.4 bushels per acre exceeded the 2011 state averages for corn production in the western region, which ranged from 170 to 210 average bushels per acre. (Washington, Idaho, Utah, Arizona, Oregon and California, USDA, NASS 2012).
Water is the limiting factor for crop production in Nevada. The maximum water allotment from the Pershing County Water Conservation District is three feet of water per acre per year. High corn yields can be achieved with 1.8 to 2.1 feet of water per acre per year (eXtension, 2008). This year the trials were irrigated with 2.87 feet of water per acre and achieve and average yield of 217.4 bushels per acre.
One disadvantage for corn production in the local area is the lack of grain-drying facilities. Therefore, producers need to grow varieties that will dry below 15 percent moisture prior to harvest in order to prevent spoilage during storage (Wilcke, 2002). With a growing season of approximately 140 days (May 13th and Sept. 30th are the average dates the chance of being less than 320 F is 50 percent) and an average of 2,505 growing degree days for corn (500F base temperature) the Pershing County area has an adequate climate for growing corn with relative maturities from 105 to 110 days, depending on the planting dates, weather and variety planted.
Due to the drought conditions experienced in the Midwest Corn Belt, corn was sold at record prices in 2012. However, even at corn prices at $5.00 per bushel and higher it is evident by the economical data provided in Table 5, corn can be a very profitable crop to grow for farmers in Pershing County.
The data gathered during this trial indicates that corn can be a profitable alternative crop to grow in Pershing County. However, these results can only be applied to these varieties and conditions experienced on the Nevada Nile Ranch in the growing season of 2012. Additional research will be needed to verifiy the validity of economical corn production in Pershing County.
Foster, S., 2010. 2008-2009 Pershing County Agricultural Statistics. UNCE Fact Sheet FS-10-12.
United States Department of Agriculture, National Agricultural Statistics Service, 2011 Crop Production Summary, ISSN: 1057-7821, January 2012.
eXtension, Corn, Water Requirements, March 2008, Corn, Water Requirements.
Wilcke, W., G. Wyatt, 2002. Grain Storage Tips, Factors and Formulas for Crop Drying, Storage and Handling. University of Minnesota Extension, FS-M1080.
The authors thank the following people for their support:
Mike Phillips, manager, Nevada Nile Ranch
Ron Burroughs, custom harvester
David Chadwick, AgSeed, weigh wagon provider