• Precision planting that includes narrow-rows (15 inches or less), more uniform seed placement within a row (we’ve seen a shift from drills back to narrow-row planters or to precision-seeding drills), better soil-to-seed contact, and the use of fungicide-treated seed in cool soils.

• Better pest management. The big one is better weed control with Roundup Ready crops (although this is changing with the resistance problems). We are also doing a much better job at controlling insects and disease when we need to. Our corn earworm, aphid, and now stinkbug survey plus utilizing threshold-based insect management strategies are working. We are putting more fungicides on reproductive-stage soybean.  Overall, this is probably bumping our yields up a little; but, many acres are being treated that probably doesn’t need to be.  We are working on some weather models to help with this.

• Better genetics, especially under high-yielding situations. I do question yield improvements (due to genetics) under lower-yielding years.

• And probably most important, more attention is being paid to the soybean crop, especially in our traditional cotton/peanut or tobacco growing regions.  Soybeans is now our most profitable crop, so farmers are paying more attention to it.

Last year in Virginia, corn, soybeans and peanut yields were all up significantly over the previous year. The obvious reason for increased crop production last year — weather.

“Two years ago, I had the worst crops I’ve had in more than 30 years of growing grain in Virginia and last year, I had the best crops I’ve ever had. This year, who knows, says Hannover, Va., grower Wayne Kirby.

To further validate Kirby’s comments, the Virginia Department of Agriculture released the following updates on the 2011 crop, just prior to planting time for the 2012 crop.

“Corn production up 93 percent over 2010, soybean production up 53 percent, hay up 42 percent; Virginia peanuts produce record yield, up 80 percent from 2010.”

The same report says, “that corn for grain yields averaged 118 bushels per acre, up 51 bushels from the previous year’s yield. Production is estimated at 40.1 million bushels, 93 percent above the 2010 production.

“Corn for grain harvested area was 340,000 acres, up 30,000 acres from last year. Corn silage harvested acreage totaled 130,000 acres, with an average yield of 16.5 tons per acre.

“Soybean yields averaged 39 bushels per acre, up 13.0 bushels from last year. A total of 550,000 acres were harvested for grain, an increase of 10,000 from last year’s soybean acreage.

“Soybean production is estimated at 21.5 million bushels, 53 percent more than last year’s production.

“Virginia’s peanut producers harvested 16,000 acres, down 2,000 acres from 2010. Peanut yields averaged 3,800 pounds per acre, up 1,920 pounds per acre from last year.

“This is a record yield surpassing the previous record of 3,700 pounds in 2009. Peanut production is estimated at 60.8 million pounds, up 80 percent from the 2010 production.”