What does it take to win the National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) Yield Contest?
According to Drew Haines of Middletown, Md., winner in Class C No-Till/Strip Till Non-Irrigated, it takes patience, experimentation and proven products from AgXplore.
Haines won his class, along with his state’s yield contest, with 366 bu/acre. It was also the second highest non-irrigated corn yield in the nation.
“It doesn’t happen overnight,” says Haines. “We’ve been working on building the soils on the farm probably six years before we even got into the contest, which was four years ago. So it’s taken us 10 years to get to this point.”
How AgXplore Helps Haines
Haines likes working with his AgXplore representative, Grant Troop. “He’s a good guy to work with, and the service I get is great,” he says.
“I use a lot of AgXplore products for a lot of different stages. I use their seed treatment, which helps the seed germinate faster and get out of the ground quicker. To get high yields, you want all the seed to germinate simultaneously.”
“I also use some of their products in furrow along with my fertilizer that goes right in with the seeds,” says Haines.
“And then we start foliar applications of their products when the corn gets six inches tall, all the way up to brown silk. We’re using that to increase kernel rows, kernel length, test weight and things like that, keeping the plant alive longer throughout the growing season.”
“This year we top-dressed three times, versus what we usually do, which is just once. But we had to keep replenishing because we just had so much rain,” Haines adds.
Increasing Yield Beats Cutting Inputs
Haines sees no advantage in reducing inputs when commodity prices are low.
“Yeah, I mean, in order for it to pay out, we feel that we have to get a yield,” Haines says.
“If you’re already going through the motions of planting the crop, we don’t see why you should cut back. Everybody has to go across the ground with the planter, and that’s your one chance to get it right.”
“Since you’re going across the fields with the planter, you might as well do it right and get as much as you can get out of it,” he says.
Focusing on Soil Health
Long before Haines ever entered the yield contest, he was working to build healthy soils on his farm.
He uses no-till to build organic matter in the soil. “We had a lot of the ground that was in hay over the years, and we would apply bedding pack manure,” says Haines.
“And we would rotate from hay to grain and that helped a lot, having that root mass and that type of thing down in there. But then we would hit that 250, 275 bu/acre for whole farm averages.”
Catching Yield Contest Fever
In 2014, Haines attended the Commodity Classic show and became interested in entering the yield contest. He decided to enter in 2015.
Haines was acquainted with the world record corn yield holder, Dave Hula, because they share the same helicopter applicator. He received some insights from visiting with Hula and was fired up for the season.
“We did everything—fertilized heavily and used various products for what we thought was going to be 350-bushel corn,” he says. “We had plenty of rain and plenty of sun, and everything should have worked out fine. But we came up with 303 bushels.”
Haines called Hula and said, “What did I do wrong?”
Hula told him, “Well, you didn’t do anything wrong. You just have a limiting factor somewhere, and you’ve got to figure out what that limiting factor is.”
Hula’s suggestion was to go out and check for soil compaction. “And that’s what we did. We went out and we took a backhoe, and we dug in the field and a foot down we had a two inch layer of compaction,” says Haines.
Addressing the Limiting Factor
Haines had watched videos on YouTube of Herman Warsaw, who broke 300 bushels in the 70s.
“He talked about tilling the ground really deep in order to get that soil profile built. And he could take a soil sample at six inches and at two feet and they’d be exactly the same,” Haines says.
The soil compaction Haines found a foot down wasn’t allowing water and nutrients to flow through the soil.
“And with some of the new hybrids we have today, corn roots are sometimes going down four to five feet to get their water or to get their nutrients,” Haines says. “We’re fortunate because we have two and three feet of topsoil. We knew we had to get the nutrients down there, too, so that when those roots go down, they’re still getting everything they need.”
Haines addressed the problem head on. “That fall we ripped those fields. We probably ripped 100 acres. And since then, the yields have been increasing.”
“It was a one-time thing—we did it in the fall of 2014 and haven’t done it again. But since we broke that barrier of compaction, now everything’s able to flow freely up and down through the soil layers. So that’s what’s made us jump ahead.”
Haines plans to continue entering the yield contest. He’s got some stiff competition, however.
Hula, who farms in Charles City, Va., set the new world record in 2017. “He’s in the irrigated class, and his record is 542 bushels,” says Haines.
The non-irrigated corn world record is 442 bushels.
Haines will also continue using AgXplore products. “They’re just a really good company, and their products do what they say they’re going to do.”
“In fact, they’ve made me a dealer,” Haines says. “And I sell a heck of a lot of their products.”
Visit with your AgXplore sales representative to get started on your own record-breaking yields today.