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- Corn producer Randy Dowdy, who had the highest national irrigated class yield of 372 bushels per acre this past year and also posted yields of 374 and 341 bushels per acre.
The one “silver bullet” for increasing corn yields is to eliminate plant stress, he says.
“If you eliminate plant stress, your yields will go up, no doubt about it. Plant stresses include compaction, lack of weed control and the stress placed on the plant by weeds or herbicides, uneven plant stands, temperature, too much or too little water, disease, and lack of water and proper nutrient balance.
“These are the keys — if you eliminate these things, you’ll create a higher yield potential on your farm every time — 10 out of 10 times,” he says.
If it was as simple as N, P and K, and secondary nutrients, anyone could do it, but that’s just one piece of the puzzle, says Dowdy.
“This is a complete system. But if I do not have enough water, I could have everything else right and still not succeed,” he says.
Dowdy says one of the keys to high-yield corn is taking soil and tissue samples, something he does every year. Others are hybrid selection and seed treatments.
“We’ve got one chance to plant the right hybrids,” he says.
“On seed selection, most of us need to match the right hybrid to the amount of water we can apply. If you can’t supply enough water, you need to select a hybrid that’s more drought-tolerant or only plant maybe half of a pivot instead.
“You’ve got to know that you’ve got enough water — not hope that you have enough. We can’t control rainfall, but hopefully, we’ll get enough to lower our cost of production and help us on our energy needs and water supply.”
It’s important, he adds, to get a uniform stand and to get it up immediately.
Dowdy grows both strip-till and conventional-tillage corn, but he does a burndown in both cases.
“I use a pre-emergence herbicide behind the planter, and then I don’t make but one trip across the field post emergence, and that trip is to control weeds.
“I don’t want any compaction, so I do everything else through the center pivot or with an airplane. Early in the season, we begin to apply fungicides via airplane. I typically begin to spray at the V7 stage, and then I’ll make other applications throughout the year to prevent disease and promote plant health.”
The difference between a good farmer and a great farmer quite often is timeliness, he says.
“Don’t hope that it’ll be okay, or that the plant will grow out of it. Know that you’re eliminating stress — this is the key. Be proactive and not reactive. If that plant tells you something visually as you walk into a field — or via a tissue sample — then it already has cost you yield.
“So if we start out with a yield potential out of the bag of 600 bushels and we’re capturing 200, then we’ve failed. We don’t have any control if weather took some of that from us, but we need to be proactive in addressing the factors that we can control.”
Make sure your combine is performing adequately and that you’re not losing yield out of the back of it, he advises. Two kernels per square foot equates to a one bushel per acre yield loss.