History of Yield Contests in Wisconsin

April 13, 2006 13(2):46-47

Joe Lauer, Corn Agronomist

The 100-Bushel per Acre Goal

In 1952, county agents came to University of Wisconsin faculty with a goal to help corn farmers increase yields to 100 bushels per acre. UW faculty from Agronomy, Agricultural Engineering, Entomology, and Soils developed a 10-step program outlining the requirements for producing 100 bushels of corn per acre. UW specialists and agents in pilot counties met with interested farmers, urging them to follow the complete program on a five-acre minimum field. A good growing season helped the program succeed. The 162 participating farmers yielded 124 bushels per acre on average.

Pacemaker Club, Corn Bag-to-Bin, and Corn Clinics

The College next developed a 10-step ‘Pacemaker' corn production program. Between 1952 and 1958, 3,794 farmers participated in the Pacemaker program, yielding an average 105 bushels per acre compared to the state average of 61 bushels per acre. In 1959, the ‘Corn Bag-to-Bin' program was begun. In 1967, the ‘Corn Bag-to-Bin' program was changed to ‘Corn Clinics.'

Wisconsin No-Till Corn Production Contest

In 1981, the Wisconsin Corn Growers Association perceived an over-emphasis on "maximum yields" and sponsored a contest based on net return. From 1982 to 1986, a ‘Conservation Tillage Corn Production Contest' was run based on the economics of corn production. In 1987, this contest was expanded into the current PEPS contest to include corn, soybean and wheat.

PEPS (since 1987)

UW agronomists along with the corn and soybean grower associations, the USDA Soil Conservation Service and UWEX county agents, founded the PEPS program in 1987 based on a vision that economics was more important than yield in a production system. During the first 10 years of the program (1987 to 1996), contestants were ranked on lowest cost per bushel. Beginning in 1997, contestants were ranked on the greatest return to management to better account for trade-offs between yield and production costs.

PEPS Improves Grower Decision-Making

To date, over 600 farmers have entered over 2500 fields into the PEPS Program. Of these entries, 128 farmers have entered the contest four years or more. These farmers over the first four years of participation have increased grower return to management $96/A, $52/A, and $32/A for the Cash Corn, Livestock Corn and Soybean divisions, respectively (Figure 1). On an annual basis, grower return increased $24/A, $13/A, and $8/A for these divisions, respectively. In the corn divisions grain yields increased 6 to 10 bushels/A. Clearly, growers have learned ways to improve input efficiency and increase profitability without sacrificing grain yield. Average corn and soybean production costs by county are shown in Figure 2.

Figure 1. Average grower return during first four years of PEPS participation.


Figure 2. Average cost of production for corn and soybean by county in Wisconsin.

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