The Free Press, Mankato, MN

August 23, 2013

Lake Crystal farmers pursuing top yields

One of six Midwestern farms involved in yield-building campaign

By Tim Krohn
tkrohn@mankatofreepress.com

---- — LAKE CRYSTAL — An inch of welcomed rain Thursday morning will push up the corn yields on the Lake Crystal farm of Matt and Luke Lantz. But even with this good growing season the brothers aren't going to hit an average yield they and other farmers hope will someday be routine: 300 bushels per acre.

The Lantz farm was the stop for a Midwest farm tour as part of a promotion to highlight farmers using the latest technology and agronomy techniques to push corn yields to their maximum.

"As farmers, we're always trying to better ourselves and increase our yields," Matt said.

The brothers are part of the Pursuit 300 campaign sponsored by Minnesota-based Mosaic company, the world's largest producer or phosphate and potash used in farm and other fertilizers. The Lake Crystal farm is one of six farms in six Midwestern states working with Mosaic agronomists, sharing experiences with blogs and aiming to eventually break the 300-bushel per acre barrier (pursuitof300.com).

On Thursday a giant Mosaic tour bus and caravan of vehicles were at the farm giving media tours.

Yields far higher than 300 bushels have been reached, but not routinely and often only by using high rates of nitrogen and sometimes irrigation. Minnesota's average corn yield last year was 166 bushels per acre, while the Lantzes generally average from 180 to 200 bushels per acre.

Luke said the push for more yield in a sustainable and economical fashion is the goal of all farmers. "We don't always have the opportunity to add acreage, but we can add bushels."

They believe the key to much higher yields lies with advanced genetics in seed and better using micronutrients on crops. "There's no Holy Grail. We need to look at micronutrients a lot more. But in the end Mother Nature plays the biggest role," Matt said.

They are focusing on testing the use of the micronutrient Boran, something not typically added to commercial fertilizers.

Gary Spence, an agronomist with Crystal Valley Co-op who works with the Lantzes, said many predict the goal of routinely getting 300 bushels per acre is achievable by 2030. "But everything has to come together."

He said advances in crop technology have been staggering in recent years. "I've seen more changes in the past five years than I saw my first 15 years before that."

Seed technology has led the way, with genetics providing pest- and drought-resistance and more adaptability to a variety of soils.

"The yields around here last year, even with the drought, were phenominal," Spence said of the payoff from drought resistant plants. That drought resistance also allows farmers to plant seeds and rows closer together as the plants need less moisture. The Lantzes plant 40,000 corn plants per acre on some land, higher than the 35,000 plants typically planted.

Their parents, Fred and Diana, started farming in 1963 and still live on the home place.

Matt, 52, returned to the family farm at a bad time. In 1982, as the farm economy was being battered by high interest rates and low crop prices, the recent college graduate went to work with his father with an eye toward expanding the farm.

Luke, 41, had a delayed route to the farm. "I saw Matt come out of college and go into farming in the '80s and I decided to take a different path." After several years in construction, Luke returned to the farm as his dad was retiring.

Today they run 2,800 acres of land, growing mostly corn, and operate an independent farrow-to-finish hog operation, raising some 60,000 pigs annually. All of the corn they raise goes to feed their pigs.

Mara Ryan, of Mosaic, said the idea for the Pursuit 300 campaign was to "bring the best minds together" to share experiences and expertise on farming practices. The Pursuit 300 website contains journal and blog entries from the six farms involved as well as articles on the latest seed and nutrition technologies.