King corn gives Indiana an earful

2014-03-16T00:00:00Z 2014-03-16T00:02:07Z King corn gives Indiana an earfulBy Phil Wieland phil.wieland@nwi.com, (219) 548-4352 nwitimes.com

There might be more than corn in Indiana, but corn is still the king of the crops.

"It's always been the king, but especially in the last three or four years it's been the income leader," said Matt Goetz, product manager for Wyckoff Hybrids in Porter County. "The market is down quite a bit, so farm income is going to come down. The projection of corn acres is that it will be down several million and in other crops too.

"Soybeans is slightly more attractive than corn from an income standpoint," Goetz said. "A bushel of corn future is about $4.20 (May soybeans were trading at $14.52 per bushel). Seed corn is big business. Beck's, Pioneer, Dekalb and there are a whole bunch of us independents that are small, family-owned companies with regionalized sales."

Goetz, the fifth generation of Goetzes to operate the farm in eastern Porter County since 1903, said the talk these days is the concern over GMOs — genetically modified organisms.

"It's not as bad as it sounds," he said.

Using a naturally occurring protein, the corn seeds can be made more resistant to corn borers, ear worms or root worms by giving them a nasty tummy ache, he said. Or they can fight leaf disease and smut (the fungus, not the X-rated material). Nobody's found the "magic bullet" protein that would enable the corn to fight off all those attackers.

"There's always something they are weak on. The best yielder might not stand well or resist disease well. If it resists disease, it might not taste as good. But, without the advanced breeding techniques and the technology in the seed, we would not be able to feed the world. Or the price of food would be high."

As the seed gets more high tech, so does the planting. Goetz said they still use corn planters, but there are much more accurate in putting seeds in the ground, and most farming now is not done by turning over the field with a plow before planting. It's done by what's called no-till.

"We are not burning as much fossil fuel (by not plowing), and we are saving soil moisture. It helps with erosion control, and there are fewer weeds. And the earthworms like it," Goetz said. "There are a lot of positives. We no-till all but the seed corn area."

Goetz's brother Luke, president and owner of Goetz Irrigation Service, has seen a boom in irrigation system purchases in the past couple of years fueled by the profits from the high prices farmers made from commodities.

"The futures market is about half what it was, but people saw the value of irrigation," Luke Goetz said. "What they are doing is guaranteeing moisture. Instead of buying a new tractor, they are putting it in irrigation to make money. Irrigation will give you more bushels.

"This is huge for specialty crops, like tomatoes, potatoes, green beans, onion or pickles. The soils are sandy in much of the area, which makes irrigation good. You can use a lot of water, and it's not going to stay on the surface. Plus, we have a good water supply here. You can poke a hole anywhere and find water."

That doesn't mean wasting water. Conservation is still important and being "a good steward of the ground," Luke Goetz said. The irrigation systems also are equipped with GPS that maps the field to know the soil types and where more water is needed.

The other change is "fertigation," in which nitrogen is sprayed along with the water to give the plants a little boost.

"The nozzles imitate rain drops so they are small enough not to have an impact on the ground but softly fall to the ground so it is easier for the soil and the plant to suck it up," he said. "The nozzles are not compacting the ground, either.

"Everybody is trying to conserve," Luke Goetz said. "We have Mother Nature to help out, and irrigation is supplementing what we have to do."

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