Renewable Farming

532-bu. new world record corn yield: Based on healthy soil biology

Farm magazine agronomists will be extracting details all winter from David Hula’s all-time corn yield record of 532 bu. per acre in the National Corn Growers Association contest this season. 

So far, the most current “story” of his production effort we’ve seen is posted on the Genesis Ag website. There’s a video of David Hula describing his family’s efforts to improve soil biology, get uniform emergence, and follow through all season with the “right product on the right acre.”

The Genesis Ag site also has a report hitting the highlights of how David and his team has refined his approach to improve soil biology, especially in the root zone, using live microbial and mycorrhiza inoculations.

The Hula success on the banks of the James River in Virginia helps explain why several major ag chemical firms are plunging huge investments into “biological” research of soil organisms and bio-remediation of soils.

We will try to assemble an “anthology” of press reports on corn contest winners this season, and update this with the appropriate links to give credit to the sources. 

David Hula’s family members operate “Renwood Farms” which has a website presenting their seed production services and products.

The Southeastern Farm Press also has a brief summary, but no production details yet in this news report. 

Progressive Farmer’s website posted a brief news report on the NCGA contest here.

Also, on Dec. 24 Progressive Farmer Senior Editor posted a report on how to “Start Corn Strong” featuring Randy Dowdy of Valdosta, GA, who  was the 2014 NCGA winner. You may have to sign up to read the feature, which is linked here.

One of the most detailed reports of Hula’s earlier corn yield performance was written by Dan Miller and published almost two years ago, Jan. 6, 2014.

In the 2013 season, Hula was also “into” biological applications, but with another firm, Biovante. This puts some perspective on the 500-plus yield in 2015, as such yield gains build on a solid biological foundation rather than emerging suddenly from a new formula.

As usual, Dan Miller gets specific. For the 2013 crop, Hula hit almost 455 bu. per acre with a season-long nutrition regimen that was probably refined considerably by the 2015 season. Those details will emerge in coming weeks. Hula says his goal is to “keep corn from going into dent. As long as it’s healthy and green, it’s continuing to pack energy into the ear.”

Mature corn on a green stalk (Photo courtesy of Stoller Inc.)

His 2013 crop “looked as green and healthy at 21% moisture as it did at 36%.” 

Keeping the stalk healthy means the kernels can release moisture back through the ear shank into the stalk, for natural dry-down. This is a sharp contrast to what we saw across much of the Midwest in 2015, with cornfields starting to die in early September. 

Below are the outlines of Hula’s corn nutrient program, based on Dan Miller’s report — undoubtedly there were enhancements in 2015.

Population:  50,000 per acre.  

Seed treatment: Seed was treated with Pentilex, a product from Biovante which accelerates germination, and zinc. Seed was also treated with Poncho 1250 + VOTIVO, even though the Pioneer 20889YHR hybrid claims a wide spectrum of insect protection.  Hula’s plan is to feed the soil microbes, which speed nutrient conversion. 

3×2 Starter fertilizer: (60-30-0) plus 6 lbs. sulfur, 0.6 lbs. zinc and 0.1 lbs. boron, dropped 3 in. to the side of the row and 2 in. below seed level. This application also includes in the starter another Biovante product, BioRed, which is live soil microbes. 

In-furrow: Two gallons of 3-18-18. (Note:  We have learned to appreciate the economy and power of in-furrow applications of biology and nutrients. This is a great opportunity to drop mycorrhizae and beneficial bacteria, along with other biostimulants to encourage colonization of the new root. One of our growers saw a 30 to 40 bu. corn yield benefit this season from such an in-furrow blend.) In-furrow doesn’t slow down your planter much because rates per acre are so modest.

Foliar at V3 to V4: Biovante’s “Biomate” and “Micro-8+” are sprayed. In fact, Biomate is included in each subsequent foliar feeding. Biomate contains sugars to feed microorganisms on the leaves and in the soil. Micro-8 is a trace element blend. (Note: We’ve seen good response foliar-feeding sugars and inoculating leaves with PPFM bacteria, which emit growth promotants.)  

V6 side-dress: This pass includes 160 units of nitrogen and 20 lbs. sulfur.  Also, BioMate and Biovante’s “Assist 45.” Weed escapes are sprayed with this pass, which also includes a fungicide and another treatment of BioMate and Micro-8+.

Pre-tassel: Sprinkler irrigation is used to apply 30 units of N and 30 lbs. K — twice. Again,  BioMate and Micro-8+ are applied one more time.

Brown silk:  Helicopter application of a farm-incubated “brew” of 3-18-18, amino acids, Headline fungicide and Tombstone insecticide. That’s repeated at blister stage, but with less 3-18-18 and a light rate of nitrogen plus boron.

All that adds up to a full summer’s work and management, adjusting the timing and rates while scouting and tissue testing. We’ve been surprised to learn that among Midwest farmers averaging 1,000 acres, only one in five does any foliar feeding at all. Some have been told by their extension agronomist that “The only way to get nitrogen into corn is through the root.”

In February 2015, No-Till Farmer ran an article on their website titled, “David Hula’s 5 Tips for High-Yielding Corn.”  That’s a very general outline. We’ll be interested to see how the in-depth editors dig into the details of how Hula generated that all-time record this year — 532 bu. per acre.

We intend to offer a couple of product suggestions to Hula and other corn growers, to help them enhance the performance of the excellent foliar fertility programs they’re using.  You guessed the first: a little WakeUP Summer in the tank with every foliar pass.  And the second is the growth promoting product we’ve been testing for two seasons:  Lignition. 

Second highest yield in the NCGA contest was on the Valdosta, GA farm of Randy Dowdy: 486.16 bu. per acre. On Randy’s website,, he’s offering consultation on improving corn yields. His strategy is reducing stress on the crop through the growing season.

Here’s the link to the National Corn Growers Association report on 2015 corn yield contest winners.