The results from the annual Manitoba Corn Growers Association (MCGA) yield competition give a tantalizing glimpse into the future of corn in western Manitoba.
The event, in its 45th year, saw Baker Colony, near MacGregor, capture the top prize for 2015 with a yield of 241 bushels per acre. Roland Unger of Arden was the second-place entry, with a yield of 219 bu./ac. Rounding out the top 10 from the region were Wynd River Farm at Cypress River, in sixth place and Drumads Farms, Boissevain in ninth place.
“The west was really well represented this year for entries,” MCGA agronomist Morgan Cott said in a telephone interview. “There’s certainly a possibility of higher yields outside the (Red River) Valley.
“The majority of acres is grown in the valley and a bit east of the Red River, (but) we’ve seen westward expansion in the past few years.”
She said corn is well established in the Portage-MacGregor area now, and has been steadily creeping west and north.
Arden is about 40 km northwest of MacGregor, roughly 200 km outside the traditional corn production area.
Cott visits each farm in the competition during the growing season. At a place chosen by the grower, she takes a 100-foot sample, collecting all the cobs by hand from two adjacent rows. At the MCGA headquarters in Carman, the entries are dried, shelled and weighed. The 2015 event had 37 entries.
Unger’s variety was Legend LR9474 VT2PRIB. It is rated to mature at 74 days. It has genetic resistance to European corn borer, plus corn earworm and fall army worm protection.
“On this variety, the average yield was about 170 bushels,” Unger said. “It was the highest-yielding competition entry that I’ve had. Another variety did go better than that last fall, but it had to be combined to figure that out.”
Total Manitoba corn area in 2015 was down to about 210,000 acres. However, the MCGA reports an average yield of 138 bu./ac. — the highest ever. For the most part, quality was excellent with high test weights and relatively low grain moisture due to the long, open fall.
For comparison, North Dakota growers planted about 2.56 million acres of grain corn last year, but the state average was only 128 bu./ac., according to the USDA.
While 2015’s competition did not match the all-time provincial record (271 bu./ac. in 2013 by Baker Colony), it was an excellent growing season in western Manitoba.
“It just turned into a perfect year that we won’t forget very soon. The season was just extended,” Cott said. “It shows we can grow high-yielding corn outside the valley. The ability to grow corn in western Manitoba is definitely there, and we have earlier varieties that are helping the acres to increase.”
Evidence of those ideal conditions could be seen in the accumulation of corn heat units. In 2015 both Arden and MacGregor beat the official rating for their area by about 10 per cent.
Unger made some changes in his corn management that also may have helped improve the 2015 yield.
“I had assistance from EchelonAg with a field prescription this time,” he said. “It wasn’t on a new piece of equipment, but I did figure out how to do variable-rate planting as well as variable-rate fertilizer. Then, we topped her up when the corn was three or four feet tall with a floater and some liquid nitrogen fertilizer. That was new, too.”
Corn growers in western Manitoba say that at anything above 120 bushels an acre, corn is proving to be profitable beyond a doubt.