Renewable Farming

More corn yield contest winners adopting Renewable Farming principles

This year’s National Corn Yield Contest winner is Don Stall of Charlotte, MI, with 476.91 bu. per acre in the conventional irrigated corn category. For a list of all 2020 corn yield contest winners, here’s the link. 

You can see details about this year’s contest winners described by Emily Unglesbee on DTN at this link. But we want to focus on significant trends among these leaders.

December 16, 2020 — Each season, we’ve noted that more leading corn growers are adopting soil biology-building strategies into their yield-enhancing programs. Examples in Emily’s report:

1. In-season application of nutrients. Metering NPK and micronutrients at planting, then side-dressing by streaming or other application method, is increasingly common. Only 4% of winners applied nutrients in the fall; just 15% at pre-plant. We can presume that many growers take in-season tissue or plant sap tests so they can head off hidden deficiencies with timely applications. 

Iowa farmer and fertility consultant Dave Schwartz keeps corn green
through full maturity with season-long nutrition. This photo was taken
Oct. 1, when many neighboring cornfields had been dead for weeks.

For years, we’ve encouraged season-long metering of nutrition. Farmers resist more trips over the field with a high-clearance rig to spray, y-drop or stream nutrients and biological boosters. But for the willing, it’s worth it. We’ve reported examples of growers who add 40 bu. or more yield by avoiding premature die-down on corn caused by mineral and NPK deficiencies. Also: We’ve shown evidence that including WakeUP in foliars and in-furrow solutions can amplify benefits of applied nutrients.In-season fertility feeding also avoids heavy fall or spring anhydrous ammonia applications, which disrupt soil bacteria.

2. Building long-term soil biological life. Of all contest entrants, 78% are reducing tillage. To reduce applied toxic chemicals, 72% use an integrated pest management plan. Almost 50% use cover crops. Almost 40% use manure from their own livestock operations. Integrating these basic practices is a foundation for rebuilding active soil humus, a reservoir of season-long fertility.

3. Crop rotation has become a standard among national winners: 88% of them raised their contest corn following soybeans. Beyond this corn contest report, we’re seeing a few Midwest growers inserting a third and fourth crop into their rotation, such as winter wheat followed by a cover crop for cattle grazing. Each new plant species stimulates about a dozen species of beneficial bacteria and fungi, restoring soil health.

If you dig into details of specific contest winners — such as David Hula’s 2019 corn contest yield of 616.2 bu. per acre, you’ll get clues on how such growers manage to gain synergy of applied nutrients, live biologicals and biostimulants applied through the growing season as needed. For a decade, our philosophy on foliar nutrients has been: “If it’s green, spray it with WakeUP and nutrients or biostimulants.”

The “Renewable Farming” phrase has advocated biological agriculture for more than 30 years. And finally, farmers are finally seeing a wide array of firms offering “bio” yield enhancers. This puts us at the leading edge of a steep learning curve: How can a grower select from the bewildering new array of bugs in jugs, biostimulants in bottles, and micronutrients at a few ounces per acre? A lone farmer doesn’t have enough time in a single season, or enough years in a farming career, to evaluate performance of many such products on his or her farm. Just look at the biologicals from Biodyne USA — eight of them — as an example. 

That’s why we’re encouraged to see the innovation-speeding possibilities of field-trial programs such as Beck’s Practical Farm Research project we reported earlier. Imagine the acceleration in soil biological health if such coordinated trials were also sponsored objectively and world-wide by Syngenta (ChemChina), Bayer and DuPont!