- Associated Press - Sunday, August 16, 2015

MILLER, S.D. (AP) - It’s never a bad year to raise your best corn crop ever, but it’s especially fitting for Reno Brueggeman this year. The Miller-area farmer is in his third year on the South Dakota Corn Utilization Council and in his first year as president of the council.

And his corn this year is green and tall and loaded with ears, the Pierre Capital Journal (https://bit.ly/1NaNG9r ) reported.

It’s a sign of what has happened on the ground in South Dakota that Brueggeman may live the farthest west of any president of the South Dakota Corn Utilization Council in history, though David Fremark of nearby St. Lawrence, only a short way east, has also held the post. That farmers in central South Dakota are holding the position is a token of how the corn production region in South Dakota has expanded to include virtually all of East River and even some parts of West River.

“We’re raising in central South Dakota what Iowa raised 15 years ago,” says Brueggeman. “We’re chasing what Iowa’s raising today. And through precision technology and seed breeding, we might get there.”

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The South Dakota Corn Utilization Council works toward that end by investing the proceeds from South Dakota’s voluntary corn check off program - 1 penny for every bushel of corn marketed - in research and promotion. It develops new markets and promotes new uses for South Dakota corn.

The state’s corn farmers harvested 787 million bushels of corn in 2014, according to the South Dakota Corn Utilization Council.

Among other things, the organization has worked hard to develop South Dakota’s ethanol industry. The state’s 15 ethanol plants will use 320 million bushels of corn this year to produce almost 1 billion gallons of ethanol and 2.44 million metric tons of distillers grains.

And the latest ethanol plant in South Dakota is being planned for Onida, in Sully County - more famous for wheat and sunflowers. That, too, is a sign of how corn has expanded its range in South Dakota.

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Brueggeman thinks South Dakota yields could one day rival what parts of Iowa are harvesting today because he’s already seen what seed technology and plant breeding have done for corn yields in central South Dakota.

“Fifty to 80 bushels was probably the average when we were growing up,” says Brueggeman.

And, adds his brother John Brueggeman, his farming partner, it was intended for a different use - feeding livestock.

Now, says Reno, their own yields in recent years have been in the range of 130 to 150 bushels.

“Now we’re trying to get to that next 150- to 180-bushel level,” Brueggeman said.

Brueggeman believes no-till technology alone has probably accounted for a 20 to 30 percent boost in yields. Better planters have solved “doubles” and “skips” so that each corn plant is placed precisely where it should be to make the best use of available nutrients and set an ear of corn. And variable rate technology - which was ramping up about the time Reno and John Brueggeman both came back to the farm in 2004 after first working for Wells Fargo and South Dakota Wheat Growers, respectively - has made it possible to sow fewer seeds where soils are light, for example, or more in low areas where heavier soils yield better.

In addition, drought-tolerant genetics have made it easier to make use of limited rainfall in some years.

“It doesn’t take as much as it used to,” Reno said. “If you get timely rains, you can get a good crop. That has to do with the technology that’s being put into the seed.”

County yield data shows that Hand County, of which Miller is the county seat, has seen its corn yields climb by nearly 25 percent between 2010 and 2014, from 112.4 bushels per acre to 140.2. That is in five short years.

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The Brueggeman brothers are already invested in an ethanol plant in Redfield, just as their father once invested in an ethanol plant in Watertown.

They’re discussing whether to invest in the proposed ethanol plant at Onida, Ringneck Energy. But whether they do or not, they believe the plant will be great for central and western South Dakota. Among other things, they say the availability of dried distillers grains, or DDG, a co-product of ethanol production that is widely used for feeding livestock, will make it easier for area cattle producers to buy that product closer to home. Currently, producers are driving to Huron, Redfield or Mina to get it.

“They’ve got to get to the Highway 281 corridor to get their DDG now,” Reno Brueggeman said.

And very likely, the Onida plant will provide a new feed option for West River cattle producers.

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The Brueggemans try to avoid corn-on-corn, including other crops in their rotations to break up disease and insect cycles. They also try to manage their fertilizer applications carefully, both to keep fertilizer from getting into waterways and to save money by applying just what the plant can use, where the plant can reach it. Reno said they apply about 60 percent of the nitrogen they use at or before planting, and then apply the remaining 40 percent as two side-dressed applications injected between the rows.

But Brueggeman notes that part of the attraction with growing corn is that wheat is becoming more of a specialty crop, with growers facing discounts for any traces of ergot or vomitoxin, for example.

That’s different from the old days when the grain elevators only tested wheat for protein and test weight.

The Brueggemans keep wheat in the rotation, but they say it takes careful management; and it’s one more reason their farm now grows more corn and soybeans than at any time in their family’s history.

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Information from: Pierre Capital Journal, https://www.capjournal.com

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