Saturday, November 16, 2013

Carrying Capasity - More on Corn





I been looking back at corn yields from pre-GMO and liquid fertilizer times and my 20 bushels per-acre number isn't as appalling as I first thought.

If you are going to look at corn history one of the best places to go is of course Iowa. Those boys up there know their corn. Northern Missouri usually kicks out the corn at about the same yields per acre as Iowa with close to the same type of climate and soil composition and since the Small-Hold is just a bit further South I would expect slightly less yields overall.

Until the 1940's yields never broke past the 40 bushels per acre mark, usually hovering in the upper 30's and yet by the 1970's they were breaking 100 bushels per acre.

That is some scary stuff if you stop and think about it. Or at least contemplate the ramifications of just what a collapse would bring to food production overall.

I also did a rather loose and informal poll with some of the local farmers or at least the old retired ones that hang out at the convenience store and love to talk. These guys are my best old time information specialist ever.

Almost without exception they said corn would be the go to crop in a grid down situation. The number one reason was for ease of harvest more than anything else. An aspect I hadn't really considered until they pointed out how much easier corn is to harvest than say wheat or other grains. Several others mentioned rotations into pasturage and plantings of pumpkins and other gourd/melon crops from time to time as well.

Interesting.

The attitude I got was that basically Corn was King where ever it could be grown but that allowing fields to go fallow was also important. 

They also mentioned that average yields tend to trend upwards the larger the field get which kinda makes sense as well.

In the end I might be able to use my 20 bushels per acre figure as a good starting point with a margin for error.

Certainly some interesting points to think about.

Keep Prepping Everyone!!!


20 comments:

  1. FYI Have you seen this...USDA
    http://www.nass.usda.gov/Statistics_by_Subject/Economics_and_Prices/index.asp

    Trying to find out yield here in MN

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    1. Rob - I will check out the link. I am most interested in early yields pre-1940's mostly as after that seems to be when the real booms got going.

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    2. hey nice post mehn. I love your style of blogging here. The way you writes reminds me of an equally interesting post that I read some time ago on Daniel Uyi's blog: What To Expect From Dating A Rich Girl vs Dating A Poor Girl .
      keep up the good work.

      Regards

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  2. The problem with corn at my place is that you would need a 12 foot high chain link electrified fence around it. I have had many a fine looking patch of corn that got half of it destroyed by coons or other critters.

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    1. SF - I think that is why the yields increase more in the larger fields. My bet is that they simply plant enough that the varmints don't make it as far into the fields. Also in a collapse situation how long before wildlife will become as scarce as corn plots in Virginia.

      If you get my meaning.

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  3. We're going to try a big garden this spring. I have plenty of room for one. Corn is one thing we are going to plant, potatoes and tomatoes are another. I have never been any good with gardening but seeing how well so many other people are doing makes me think I should try again.

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    1. Harry - I think gardening will be a needed skill in the times ahead. It may not in point of fact be the only means of food production for many but what it can help with will certainly be needed.

      It is time and a skill that will not go to waste.

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  4. PP-
    20 bushels acre is respectable. Remember you are trying to be self-sufficient - you're not commercial farming :-)
    Small holders can do lots of things more economically that Debt Farmers can't do. If it we me, and I was just starting out and getting serious about corn, I'd be checking into ground driven equipment & a draft animal. If you don't want a horse, a bottle calf makes a good ox and they aren't any hard to train than a dumb dog. You can make the yoke with basic tools.

    Sunnybrook Farm makes an important point. Deer,coons, crows etc. don't really bother GM corn & soybeans unless they're starving. It's an observation that lots of hunters and farmers have noticed. 20 years ago you could hardly grow soy beans around here for the deer damage. Today -not a problem. Deer won't touch 'em.
    We grow a very rare OP corn "Early Butler" and have lost entire crops due to varmints. hat's because OP corn taste good - GM corn not so good.
    Listen to the Old Timers about field rotation. You can "corn out" a field pretty fast and you'll pay the Devil to make it right again.
    Looking forward to reading about what you decide on.

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    1. GM - Varmints are not really much of an issue here surrounded as we are by a mile or more of corn and soybean. The grazers and thieves don't usually get this far.

      I would more than likely go with a Mule if/when I add a working animal to the place. My plan right now is to have enough stored fuel on hand to last with the small tractor about three years. Using an Old 8N ground driven is a good thing and most of the stuff made for less than 20 horse tractors can be converted if the need arises. At least the plows and such.

      As it stands right now I will probably put about 5 acres into corn production and rotate that around. I also have another 300 acres I can work down on the parents place as well but not counting on it.

      Top on my list is getting my manure spreader restored this Winter I hope.

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  5. As well as field rotation you could try mixed crops in a grid down situation. Planting the rows of corn further apart and planting squash and beans in alternate rows. The pumpkins provide good ground cover against weeds and the beans fix nitrogen in their roots. Yes harvesting is harder but you will get a far greater combined yield.
    Mostt modern farming methods rely on heavy doses of NPK even no dig methods and GM crops. This is the reason for the high yields.
    If you are planning on surviving the collapse you need to start conditioning your soil now. If heavy doses of NPK have been frequently used it will take quite a few years to bring the soil back to a fertile, sustainable condition.

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    1. Anon - I have already addressed bean production. Been breeding my own and tracking yields for years and it requires about 1200 plants per person per year. I am looking at a good 3 acres of beans but that plot is already "conditioned" if you will. I finished plowing, discing, harrowing and seeded it in nitrogen fixing grass this year. Even hayed it off once. When the time comes it is going to be planted in beans.

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  6. The Indians with their three sisters had a pretty good mix. It is not exactly sustainable in the long term, but would work reasonably well short term. Having a decent supply of 10-10-10 on hand probably wouldn't hurt.

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    1. Russ - Well not having any fertilizer except what is around and naturally replenished is kinda the point here. It's gonna be a lot of old hay, sheep poop, grass clippings, wood ash and some long decomposing woody biomass for fertilizer.

      I had a problem with the three sisters method of planting. I could never get the corn close enough to support each other without shading out the other crops.

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    2. If your problem is wind damage with the corn stalks it can be overcome. We've been organic farming for 35 years andwe extensivly use hedging as wind breaks and to cause prevailing winds to 'lift' over the fields, but it is an extremely long term project. It has however been very beneficial allowing us to grow crops that neighbouring farms cannot! It is why we grow the corn further apart. The three sisters are not a pancea and take part as a regular crop rotation. Beans though as nitrogen fixers are easier in a grid down situation than many green manures due to the ease of collecting the seed.

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  7. Corn and potatoes are the new world miracle crops. However without seed potatoes, grown at high altitudes, nematodes will kill the yield on potatoes. Corn isn't without its issues too; google Pellagra. That said, corn is one of my favorites.

    Have you considered distilling the corn and feeding it to the tractor? Wood gas would also be something to consider. Spending an hour or so getting the tractor going isn't going to fly today, however without gas it is much more appealing than the alternatives. You could mount the gas generator in the front or on top of whatever implement you are using. In cold weather it would be a welcome addition.

    Best,
    Dan

    P.s. One thing that bothers me about GM crops that I never see addressed is the risk. A worst case scenario would be the complete and irrevocable loss of one of the big 7 staple crops. I'm not sure the potential benefits are worth the risk.

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    1. Dan - I agree with you on GMO crops but at this point I think much like our current entitlement and immigration system they have gone too far to stop. The world population can't handle going back to normal non-GMO yields.

      As for the woodgas etc. I have looked into it. I am thinking methane production might work better for me but I will admit the explosive properties is worrisome. I have stored some parts for just such an eventuality but never tested the process.

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  8. My experiences with gardening would cause me to drop all grain production in a grid down environment. Corn might be king when it comes to grains, but if we are worried about starving in the winter then fields of corn would make me a little nervous.

    There are many plants that will produce more food that is more nutritious in the same or less space.

    In a grid down situation, I don't think you will continue to see acres and acres of monocrops. We won't have the fertilizer, chemicals and mechanics to make that work. I believe that the new reality will look more like permaculture, with food guilds and companion planting. I think part of that new reality will include corn, just not fields and fields of it.

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    1. Depends on the cause of the grid down situation a close approximation would be the BBC's series Edwardian Farm, if you were already prepared that is. For most in the western world it would sink back to medieval systems very rapidly. Huge swathes of areas that are currently under the plough of monoculture crops have soil that is for all intents and purposes sterile, requiring massive amount s of NPK fertiliser to grow anything other than weeds. The dearth of spare parts for tractors, not to mention fuel, would soon require good old horse power for which millions more would be needed. It would be an ugly time!

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    2. Jason - I agree with you partially. Or at least I think you have misunderstood something. My discussion here is only a small part of my overall Small-Farm endeavors. I am certainly not talking about monocrops at all. There really isn't another type of grain better suited for livestock than corn.

      This discussion is about what I would need to feed to keep livestock sustainably and I believe that would best be with corn.

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    3. Anon - You are pretty much 100% correct I think.

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