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Bull market won't change producer's rotation plan

High grain prices are pushing many Mid-South farmers to switch acres to corn this year. But Dresden, Tenn., farmer Ben Moore, well, he's already there.

Moore, who farms 3,000 acres of corn, soybeans and wheat with his father, Kenneth, has made a good living from grains most of his farming career thanks to on-farm storage, practical marketing skills, no-till and a rotation program to reduce disease pressure and bump yields.

While Moore is happy to see the bull market for corn, “we try to stay with a corn/soybean rotation regardless of the price because it makes us more money in the long run by keeping disease pressure low, and it just works well with our operation.”

Since graduating from high school in 1995 and the University of Tennessee, Martin in 1999, Moore has gradually converted the farm's acreage to no-till. “In the last year, we were almost 100 percent no-till. We used to work our bottoms up because we thought it was necessary, but we're seeing the same or better yields under no-till as we were in conventional-till. Where we've no-tilled, the combines are more efficient and we can get in the field quicker in the spring.”

Moore will pull soil samples on soybean ground after harvest to determine corn fertility needs for his 1,500 acres of corn. “We use this data to formulate custom fertilizer blends suited for each farm. We use anhydrous ammonia for our nitrogen source, put out preplant. We are interested in sidedressing the anhydrous, but this requires too much time, and we don't have a lot of that.”

Moore will burndown two weeks before planting with Gramoxone and atrazine “to get the ground good and clean so it will warm up quicker. We'll come back with Steadfast and atrazine when the corn is 2 inches to 3 inches tall.

“The program has worked out well. It provides a good residual. Our corn crop is usually clean when we harvest. I've used a little Roundup Ready corn and I like it, but I also plant Roundup Ready soybeans, and any Roundup Ready corn coming up in the beans can get expensive to control.”

Resistant horseweed has found its way onto some of Moore's fields, “but we've been lucky because last year was the first year we've noticed it. It hasn't pulled our yields down any. It's a nuisance to see it in the field, but it could become an even larger problem.”

Moore plants primarily Pioneer and DeKalb hybrids. The Moores have always noticed a yield increase with Bt hybrids. “We noticed a much better response last season than normal. There must have been more corn borer pressure.”

Moore plants corn with a Kinze no-till planter equipped with row cleaners and spiked closing wheels to shatter the sidewalls. “We plant our corn deeper now than in years past. A few years ago, we had some corn go down. The deeper planting aids in root development which helps to combat drought and lodging issues.”

Moore made an aerial application of the fungicide Headline on half his corn acreage in 2006. “I do believe that fungicides are hybrid-specific, and I hope that there will be more data on which hybrids respond in the years to come.”

The fungicide not only addresses Moore's concern about gray leaf spot, his primary disease in corn, “but Headline is also supposed to improve general plant health. We're always looking for ways to increase our yields because that's where our profits are.”

The crop was harvested with a John Deere 9650 and a Case 2388. Harvest usually begins around Sept. 1, although in 2006, corn didn't dry down as quickly as usual. “Part of that could have been due to the Headline, which made it a healthier plant and gave it more time for grain fill.”

Corn yields confirmed this as Moore gathered his best corn crop ever in 2006.

After harvest, corn stalks are left standing and the following spring, soybeans are no-tilled in 15-inch rows. “We plant wheat on some of our hills, but it's not a large part of our operation.”

Moore has enough storage for most of his corn production. Most beans go directly to river ports for storage, or to sell if the price is right.

The Moores don't have drying capability for corn, preferring to let the corn dry out in the field. “But we're looking to have to add a dryer as we increase our overall acres,” Moore said. “We'll have to start earlier if we're going to get all the corn out.”

Moore made his first sale of his 2006 corn crop in February 2006, locking in a price on about 15 percent of his expected corn production, an amount he figures to sell directly to a feed mill. “Looking back you can never guess these wild swings in the market, but I don't regret the decision.”

Moore will watch for spikes in the market and try to sell on the highs. He'll buy puts or calls for added protection, “when the time is right and I can buy it economically.

“There are a lot of people out there telling you how and when to sell your crop,” Moore said. “The best resources I have are friends around the United States who I can call and ask about their crops and weather situations. If their crops are down and I anticipate prices going up, I'll use a call option. If it's looking the other way — crops are looking good and prices are going down — I'll buy a put.”

Last year, puts in place to protect against downside lost money for Moore. “But I made up for it ten-fold in what the market did. I was glad to lose that money to see the market go up so high. These are promising times in the markets for farmers.”

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