What recipe would you devise to grow corn if someone else were covering the expenses and doing the work? What marketing plan would you develop? There is one catch: Your goal is to produce the most profit per acre after accounting for all expenses except land and labor.
Four FFA chapters had the opportunity to live that experience this year. Joel Wahlman, superintendent of the Southeast Purdue Agricultural Center at Butlerville, Ind., and his assistant, Alex Helms, gave chapters the chance to come up with recipes for growing and marketing corn. The recipes became treatments in a trial where each plot was replicated four times. The participating chapters in the inaugural FFA Profit Plots program were Batesville FFA, North Decatur FFA, South Decatur FFA and South Ripley FFA.
“We tried to involve them and teach them lessons all year,” Wahlman says. “Part of the objective was to expose them to how and why we do research, and let them learn about corn production and marketing at the same time.”
Everything in this project came together when the four chapters gathered at SEPAC with Wahlman and Helms after harvest. Here is a synopsis of that meeting. See what you can learn from the results.
The objective was to produce the most profit per acre. See Table 1 (at the end of the story). Batesville topped the chart at $323.11 per acre, followed by North Decatur at $257.45, South Decatur at $231.52 and South Ripley at $207.94.
“Note that Batesville took a conservative approach and spent the least per acre,” Wahlman says. “Yet their plots produced the highest yield. They were easily the least-cost producer.”
MOST PROFIT: The formula Batesville FFA members used for their corn plots and marketing strategy resulted in the highest profit per acre in the inaugural SEPAC project. Team members included (from left) Caroline Meer, Nick Meer and Grace Tonges. Samantha Tonges is not pictured.
See Table 4 (below) for yields for each chapter’s plots. These are the averages of four replications, Wahlman notes.
Look at the other end of the spending spectrum. “North Decatur spent the most per acre and had the lowest yield,” he says. “Yet they wound up second in the contest for most profit per acre at $257.45.”
The chapters had the opportunity to forward-contract their expected bushels on paper for the contest. “We hoped it would entice them to pay attention to markets,” Wahlman says. “That’s an area where we need to spend more time next year. We could probably do a better job of helping them understand marketing choices, and realizing just how important marketing is to the outcome.”
Note in Table 3 (below) that the chapters had far more bushels to sell than were actually grown in the plots. “We told them to assume they had 400 acres of corn and 60,000 bushels of storage,” Helms says. “We wanted to teach them about various marketing methods.”
North Decatur paid attention to marketing from the start, says Scott Johnson, North Decatur FFA advisor. “We chose to raise non-GMO corn so we could get a premium and boost our income. It was the members’ choice.”
Corn harvested from North Decatur’s plots was high-quality, and likely would have qualified for non-GMO premiums, Wahlman says.
“We also spent a lot of time texting and talking after the August field day on whether we should contract at $4 per bushel,” Johnson says. “We realized at that point that we needed to do the best job of marketing possible. We spent considerably more per acre on fertilizer than some teams, and we needed to make up ground.”
Johnson says his members learned a valuable lesson. “We contracted some bushels, but we should have contracted more. We hesitated because some team members were reading articles that corn could go to $5 per bushel. Obviously, that didn’t happen. But the discussion likely kept them from agreeing to sell more.”
North Decatur still sold at the highest average price of $3.64 per bushel. See Table 3 (below).
Look at Table 2 (below). It shows how costs shook out for each team. North Decatur spent less on seed, choosing a non-GMO variety, but spent the most on fertilizer and chemicals. Those latter two items contributed to the chapter’s high overall expense total.
South Ripley posted the second-highest yield but the lowest total revenue per acre. “Their corn was wetter, especially compared to Batesville,” Wahlman says. “That increased drying costs. It boosted their machinery expense per acre, and took away from their overall income.”