Weather used to predict corn yield and nutrition content

By Daniel Renteria, Staff writer

A new study by professors from the College of ACES uses the weather to predict the nutritional quality and yield of corn.

Carolyn Butts-Wilmsmeyer and Juliann Rose Seebauer both worked to develop this new model for predicting yields, along with oil and protein content, using specific types of weather at critical stages of growth.

Butts-Wilmsmeyer was the statistical analyst for the project, she went through the data to create models, machine learning techniques and algorithms that could compare multi-state regions. Seebauer’s contribution to the study was her knowledge on the effect of weather on yields, grain quality, corn growth and development.

Butts-Wilmsmeyer said in an email that the project’s data was collected by the U.S Grains Council starting in 2011. With the data collected by the council, the researchers began to create a model to improve grain yield and quality.

“The U.S. Grains Council is interested in whether we might be able to improve the quality of our grain exports, particularly the protein quality, without incurring yield penalties for our farmers,” said Butts-Wilmsmeyer.

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Yield penalty refers to when the yield of a particular crop is sacrificed for a higher nutritional content.

“Since we had access to this massive database, we thought it might be interesting to mine that data for additional insight in relation to this question of improving grain quality and yield simultaneously,” she said. 

What makes this study different is that the researchers chose to examine both yield and quality of the grain, whereas many studies focus on one or the other, Butts-Wilmsmeyer said. This study was done for the entirety of the Midwest region and not just one state.

Brad Uken, from the Champaign County Farm Bureau, said that though there has never been a study done which uses weather as an indicator for yield, many farmers have noticed that rain at certain times of the growing season has certain effects on corn yields.

“I think that the farmers who are out there looking at their fields and scouting on a regular basis kind of had some good ideas, but this solidifies it and this report went a bit further and created a model to predict,” said Uken.

Seebauer said in an email that since the oil and protein content of corn is not known until after the corn is harvested, its price is not known until after the harvest. The oil and protein content of the corn is necessary to know for animal feed prices.

Uken said that the nutritional content of corn is not a major concern for farmers since this is more of a concern for the end user. The biggest concern for farmers is the end yield.

“While all ingredients in corn are good for feed, the protein and oil are more nutritious and more valuable, and buyers may be more willing to buy the corn or pay more for it. But grain isn’t typically measured for protein and oil when producers bring it to the elevators,” said Seebauer.

Uken clarified the importance of research done by universities and private sector researchers in helping farmers make good decisions before they harvest their yield in the fall.

“There’s a lot of research that comes from the University and private sectors of agriculture companies that are able to produce some products and research that help farmers a great deal throughout a growing season. All of this makes it easier to manage seasons as they move forward,” said Uken.

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