- In 2013, the Monmouth Learning Center created an educational competition for area high school agriculture programs. Since that time, the Fantasy Farming Challenge has grown each year. In 2019, we had 22 participating schools from Illinois. Through this program, thousands of high school students have had the opportunity to learn more about crop production and the agriculture industry.
- The Challenge begins in February when students in the participating schools attend a presentation where they learn about basic corn production, the key decisions a grower must make every season, and the risks and costs associated with those decisions. From there, the students must design a corn production “field” and make the following key decisions:
- Select a corn product from a list of several different genetic families and trait packages
- Whether to add a soil insecticide
- Planting date (early, mid, or late)
- Seeding rate
- Row spacing (20 or 30 inches)
- Pounds of nitrogen/acre
- Timing of nitrogen application (all preplant or split between preplant and in-season application)
- Whether to apply a foliar fungicide
- Most of these decisions have a cost associated with them, and there are several fixed costs for each plot based on equipment, fuel, herbicides, land rent, etc.
Once their decisions have been submitted, the Learning Center staff plants each school’s plot, implementing the production decisions of the students. During the season, each school takes a field trip to the Monmouth Learning Center to see their plot and learn more about agronomy as well as career opportunities in the industry.
At the end of the season, all plots are harvested, yields are adjusted to 15% moisture, and the grain is sold on the cash market. There are two prizes given out: one is awarded to the school who produces the highest yield, and one is awarded to the school who returns the highest profit based on their decisions.
RESEARCH SITE DETAILS
UNDERSTANDING THE RESULTS
Corn maturity and trait package were not major factors with regard to yield. However, when analyzing profitability, the VT Double PRO® RIB Complete® corn blend trait packages tended to be the more profitable choice. This was not surprising as these plots were planted on soybean stubble, so corn rootworm was not a factor.
Nitrogen management was also critical this year. Schools that went with ‘front-heavy’ applications of nitrogen tended to yield and perform better. Cutting back on nitrogen rates resulted in much lower productivity.
For the most part, early planting outperformed later planting.
The top five schools (yields) were within 6 bu/acre of each other but were separated by as much as $62.79 in net profit/acre.
The plot with the highest per-acre cost was 6th in yield.
- Similarly, the plot with the lowest per-acre cost ranked 18 out of 22 in overall profitability.
These are excellent lessons for students in that the goal of a farmer is not just to produce high yields, but to do so efficiently and profitably. Continuing to add inputs does not guarantee higher yield and cutting costs does not necessarily lead to better profitability.
It is very seldom in this competition that the highest yielding plot is also the most profitable, but in 2019 that was the case. Congratulations to the students at Riverdale High School in Port Byron, IL for putting together the winning plot! Thank you to all schools who participated, and we look forward to conducting this competition again in 2020!