Secrets of top producers

Top 10 high-yield management strategies revealed

What happens when two farmers plant the same corn genetics but follow much different management strategies?

It’s a real-world question for Dan Bjorklund, seed team leader at MaxYield Cooperative, as he analyzes two clients’ fields.

“Field A has extremely low potassium levels,” Bjorklund said. “Since the grower hasn’t had any soil samples pulled in 10 years, he has not fertilized properly to replace nutrients removed by years of crop production.”

Field A’s actual yield in 2017 ended up at 175 bushels per acre, Bjorklund added.

Unlike Field A, Field B is located farther south in MaxYield’s trade territory, in an area that saw extreme weather stress throughout much of the 2017 growing season. Because this grower followed a number of high-yield management strategies, including proper fertilization, “I expected this field to yield more than 200 bushels per acre,” Bjorklund said. “It ended up yielding 245 bushels per acre.”

“I bet there’s going to be an 80-bushel difference between these two fields, even though they were planted with the same genetics,” he added. “This shows the power of information and the power of following systems like our top 10 high-yield management strategies. These strategies aren’t foolproof, but they are workable, repeatable, and can help you grow more bushels.”

What’s the local data saying?

In the High Management Yield Contests, sponsored each year through SciMax Solutions, MaxYield’s precision farming solutions system, it’s not unusual for top producers to achieve 260-bushel to 280-bushel-per-acre corn yields. Strong yields are even possible when Mother Nature creates serious weather challenges.

“In the 2017 entries, yields ranged from the 220s in the stressed areas to the 260s and 270s in areas that received additional moisture in July,” Bjorklund said.

There’s a lot that can be learned from examples like this.

“In the past several years we’ve studied these results and have put together a high-yield management program that’s working well,” said Bjorklund, who noted that SciMax incorporates input from more than 550,000 local acres and includes 400 layers of agronomic data. “By working with this elite group of SciMax growers, we’ve identified proven strategies anyone can use to maximize bushels.”

These top 10 strategies include:

1. Crop rotation. Almost all of the highest yields in the SciMax group came from first-year corn, which is corn following soybeans.

2. Variable-rate planting. Nearly all of the SciMax growers used variable-rate planting, so they can match higher plant populations with higher productivity areas in the field.

3. Early planting. “The growers who planted the earliest did the best,” Bjorklund said. “That means April for corn, and as soon as possible after corn for soybeans.”

4. Planting in proper conditions. While Mother Nature’s whims can make it tricky sometimes to plant when the seedbed is ready, it’s a worthy goal. “You run into lots of challenges if you plant into a seedbed that’s too wet,” Bjorklund said. “When you plant into a seedbed that’s ready, the plants tend to develop the best root systems and produce the highest yields.”

5. Variable-rate fertilizer. Nearly all of the SciMax growers with top yields used variable-rate fertilizer. “The goal is to have nitrogen that’s readily available to the plant,” Bjorklund said. “You also apply the nutrients accordingly, since some areas need more than others.” He added, for both corn and soybeans, the highest yields come on acres with proper fertility levels of phosphorus and potassium.

6. Placing the right seed genetics on the right acres. Selecting the right genetics for the environment in which the seeds will grow is a key to high yield potential. The key is placing the right genetics on the right acre, Bjorklund said.

7. Proper fungicide use. Fungicides were used more than 90 percent of the time in the highest-yielding fields in the High-Management Yield Contest, Bjorklund noted.

8.Fine-tuning fertilizer in the growing season. High-yield growers tend to follow some of the practices embraced by Randy Dowdy, the famous Georgia crop producer who has shattered national corn yield contests with 503 bushels per acre and 171 bushels per acre on soybeans. These include checking the crop weekly, using tissue sampling, and making management adjustments, as necessary, such as foliar-applying nutrients, Bjorklund said.

9. Genetic diversity. Since there’s no way to accurately predict what weather conditions might influence the next growing season, genetic diversity is a key to success. “Not only is genetic selection critical, but we need to get the most out of the genetics on each acre,” Bjorklund said. “That involves matching the right genetics to the right environment, rather than just going with the high-yielding genetics from the previous year.”

10. Sticking with the plan.

While these top 10 strategies reflect 2016 data, when excellent growing conditions were common throughout MaxYield’s trade territory, will they still work in high-stress years?

“It’s clear that these practices work in good years and not-so-good years,” Bjorklund said. “These high-yield management strategies are a workable system, not a guessing game. The key is to make these strategies part of your system, and then stick to the plan.”