By Brian Hefty

Corn – 542 bushels/acre in 2017 – David Hula, Virginia
Soybeans – 171 bu/a in 2016 – Randy Dowdy, Georgia
Wheat – 249 bu/a in 2017 – Eric Watson, New Zealand

Seeing these yield levels is extremely exciting to me, because this confirms the fact that the seed we are putting in the ground has the genetic potential to produce three to four times what the U.S. average yield is. As an agronomist and as a farmer, that gives me great hope that I can do better on my farm, and that farmers everywhere can produce more.

We have had the good fortune to have both Hula and Dowdy on our farm with plots they’ve managed season-long for the last 3 years, which they have each spoken about at the Ag PhD Field Day, held annually on the last Thursday in July. We are hopeful to have them back again this year. Eric Watson has also accepted our invitation to manage a plot at the Field Day site this year, and he will be at the Field Day to speak, as well.

Since we have had the opportunity to work with many of the high yield farmers around the country in the past, we get asked all the time about some things that farmers can do to boost yields and just as importantly, boost profitability. Here are some of the key things that stand out.

  1. The most important thing to correct first is drainage and water management. Ideally, every high yield farmer would love to have ample irrigation at his disposal. In the heavy soils of the Midwest, tile is essential. Before I spend money on anything else, this should be addressed.
  2. What Darren & I spend 95% of our time talking to high yield farmers about is fertility. Here are some commonalities among the high yield farmers when it comes to fertility:
    • They soil test every single year
    • They pull plant tissue analysis weekly, using some of the same gridpoints where they pull soil samples. They also try to pull samples at the exact same growth stage or GDU stage from year to year. Tissue analysis is used for many things, but one thing that stands out to me is the verification of effectiveness of foliar or sidedressed nutrients. In other words, test before and after application. If tissue levels didn’t change, the product didn’t work or at the very least, it didn’t do what they wanted it to do.
    • They all know how to read their own soil tests, and they keep track of their tissue test results
    • They don’t skimp on fertilizer. They are each trying to boost plant levels throughout the year from season to season, which should and often does increase yield.
    • Their base saturation K levels are almost always 6% or higher
    • They spoon-feed nutrients to make sure each plant never goes hungry
    • They don’t just look at N, P, and K. They talk a lot about secondary and micronutrients, soil pH, and much more.
  3. Scout your fields often. I go back to what I know about Herman Warsaw, the first farmer who consistently topped 300 bushel corn in yield trials FIFTY YEARS AGO!! He was known to almost “live” in his corn fields.
  4. Adjust your planter. It’s hard to raise 300 bushel corn if you don’t have a 300 bushel stand.
  5. I am listing this as number 5, but I should have listed this as number 1. Every super-high yield farmer I know is very, very, very fussy when it comes to the little details. Success in farming isn’t much different than success in any other business. If you don’t pay attention to every last little detail, making sure it is perfect, you won’t achieve the greatest results. Attention to every single detail requires tremendous dedication, commitment, and time…lots of time. These people work really, really hard, and it shows.
  6. Try new things. Every year you should have an open mind and be willing to try some crazy things. One high yield farmer put tinfoil down in between the rows to see if it would increase yield. Another sprayed Mountain Dew on his crop. If there is any possible angle that could pay, they are testing it to see if it does pay. How do they test? They do it on a small scale at first, but the big key is constant evaluation. When you try something new each year, and you should, you need to soil test before and after. You should do plant tissue analysis before, after, and all throughout the season. You should also do visual observations, root digs, and any other analysis you can to find out if something is truly making a positive change in your crop’s production.

Ultimately, what’s important is not if you are setting world records or not. What we believe is important is to continue to produce higher yields while making money and improving the soil. Whatever your goals are, we wish the best as you continue to strive for them. We will be here to help. Good luck!