September 26, 2021

Pioneer Yield Pyramid: Data-driven decision tool assists farmers with crop management

JOHNSTON, Iowa — The new Pioneer Yield Pyramid decision tool will help farmers evaluate factors that impact crop yields.

“This concept started in 2018 when our Pioneer field agronomists asked about having a better understanding of all the factors that go into influencing corn yield,” said Matt Clover, Pioneer agronomy manager.

Pioneer plants numerous research plots each year.

“We have about 56,000 locations and all that information is going into this decision tool,” said Clover during the Get Ready for the Future of Farming — Corteva Agriscience Summer Media Day. “This is a data-driven tool that is using data we’ve collected over the last 10 years.”

For example, Clover said, farmers try to manage the nitrogen the best they can to maximize corn yields. Then it starts to rain and the management may change or there are hot or cold periods.

“All these factors start to interact,” Clover said. “There are a lot of things that ultimately influence what will happen to that corn yield from the time we plant that seed until the time we harvest.”

The Yield Pyramid has five levels and the first step is for farmers to find the level they are at based on their current crop yields. Zone 1 is the base level.

“Think about the lower average yields for a given region or environment,” Clover said. “We want to boost that grower up through the yield pyramid.”

Levels 2 to 4 of the pyramid are based on Pioneer data.

“Level 2 is about managing the soil and thinking about what the plant ultimately needs to complete its life cycle,” Clover said. “We look at specific soil test targets on a regional basis and we’re trying to see if current modern practices help to correspond with those specific soil test levels being used by universities.”

As farmers start to push yield levels it is important to have adequate to high amounts of nutrition in the soil, Clover said.

“We want to be at the upper end of the current recommendations,” he said.

Level 3 focuses on the overall plant health.

“We want to bring in things like tissue testing, aerial imagery and assess if the changes we made in Levels 1 and 2 are having an impact on Level 3,” Clover said. “The crop is going to tell us what’s working and what’s not so once we get past that point, now we’re really thinking about managing specific interactions.”

The decision tool includes 10 GEM zones — genetics by environment, by management. The zones are environmental clusters that are located throughout the United States.

“When we look at locations, we look at multiple attributes like yield, management practices, overall weather patterns, soil types and plant nutrition,” Clover said. “We put all that together and ideally we want to find locations with more similarities than differences.”

The goal, he said, “is to learn what the environment is telling us to help us make a better, informed decision.”

The 2012 growing season was a memorable year when many farmers experienced drought conditions.

“But droughts occur all the time, typically on a micro scale, and we also have places where we have very wet conditions,” Clover said. “With the GEM zone concept, we can learn from that so we can better anticipate if we do get dry conditions, that probably happened somewhere and we can learn better how that ultimately impacted out management decisions.”

The northern Corn Belt, Clover said, has silt, loam type soil with fairy high nutrient levels.

“There is also going to be management practices that are able to achieve or sustain fairly high or above average yield levels,” he said. “Our precipitation levels are going to be slightly above average and temperatures slightly cooler than average, so this is an environment that supports a corn yield average of 220 to 250 bushels per acre.”

For the eastern Corn Belt it changes a bit.

“The soils get older, we have lower nutrient levels, slightly higher precipitation and a little higher temperatures,” Clover said. “So, we’ll tend to see lower yield levels as we move from the northern Corn Belt to the eastern Corn Belt.”

Once a farmer has determined the level they are currently at for the Yield Pyramid, the next step is to look at potential changes in management practices to help boost his yield level.

“You can look at plant population, hybrid selection or nutrient levels,” Clover said. “It’s about finding the pieces where you’re a little behind the curve by comparing to the rest of the region.”

The Yield Pyramid decision tool is available to all Pioneer customers and it is based on Pioneer hybrids.

“Pioneer field teams have access to all this information, so someone who is interested in using this should reach out to their Pioneer representative,” Clover said.

Martha Blum

Martha Blum

Field Editor