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Crop yield champions Kip Cullers and Randy Dowdy share secrets to growing high-yield corn and soybeans

Crop yield champions Kip Cullers and Randy Dowdy share secrets to growing high-yield corn and soybeans
Crop yield contest winners Kip Cullers and Randy Dowdy share their secrets for success.

As part of the “Science behind BASF” media symposium held recently in Orlando, BASF invited crop yield contest winners Kip Cullers, Purdy, Mo., and Randy Dowdy, Brooks County, Ga., to share their secrets to growing high-yield corn and soybeans.
Cullers, who has used BASF’s Headline fungicide for years, broke his own soybean yield world record in 2010 with a 160.0 bu./acre yield. Dowdy had the second-highest corn yield in the country in 2012 with 372.33 bu./acre.

“These guys are truly students of their trade,” says A.J. Woodyard, technical crop production specialist with BASF. “The minute they rip open a corn bag and dump the seed into the planter, they know that every wrong decision from that point forward is costing them yield and, eventually, dollars out of their pockets,” Woodyard says. “So they are very cognizant of the details and getting them right.”
Here are Cullers and Dowdy’s secrets to growing record-breaking corn and soybean yields.

Kip Cullers’ 7 secrets to growing high-yield soybeans

Kip Cullers, Purdy, Mo., broke his own soybean yield world record in 2010 with a 160.0 bu./acre yield. Last week he spoke at BASF’s annual media symposium in Orlando, sharing tips to achieve high-yield soybeans.
“It doesn’t matter where I’m at in the world,” Cullers says. “I preach the same thing over and over. Something kills your beans prematurely, whether it is insects, disease, or lack of nutrients, water or light. It’s my job to figure that out. Keeping the plant alive, happy, healthy and growing for a long period of time is what packs the starch in the plant so you can get those higher yields.”
Here’s how Cullers tackles the factors that limit yields in soybeans to maximize his productivity.

1.      Plant for even and fast seed emergence. “High yields start with planting,” Cullers says. “I want all my seeds to emerge in a 24-hour window because anything that emerges in 72 hours is no more than a weed in the field. It will not put on an ear or set pods. So even and fast emergence is crucial to attaining high yields.”
2.      Eliminate weeds early. “Weeds, I hate them,” Cullers says. “If you let your weeds get 2-in. tall, 10% of your yield potential just went out the window, is unrecoverable and is never coming back. So you need to do a better job at weed control if you want to improve yields.”
3.      Scout fields daily. “Get out of your pickup and walk your fields,” he says. “It is hard to tell what’s going on at 60 mph.”
4.      Use fungicides. “Every acre I farm gets Headline fungicide. It pays big dividends of 20-plus bushels every time I test it.
5.      Maximize plant populations.
6.      Plant big seed. “Big seed translates to more yield,” he says.
7.      Don’t let soybeans get too tall. “When beans get too tall they get lanky,” Cullers says. “They start growing on top of each other and limit photosynthesis. Without photosynthesis pods won’t form on the plant.”

Cullers ended his presentation by showing a lush field of dark-green soybeans with no insects, no disease pressure and lots of light. “You want to keep those plants happy, healthy, and growing,” he says. “If a plant feels good, it wants to produce. If it doesn’t feel good, it won’t produce.”

Randy Dowdy’s 10 secrets to growing high-yield corn

Randy Dowdy, Brooks County, Ga., is a first-generation farmer who started his career in 2006. “I’m a newby,” says Dowdy, who recently spoke at the annual BASF media composeum held in conjunction with this year’s Commodity Classic. Dowdy had the second-highest corn yield in the country in 2012 with 372.33 bu./acre.
“I went to the best farms across the country to learn how to grow corn,” he says.
“If there’s one thing I want you to take away, it’s this,” Dowdy says, pointing to a visual entitled “Understand the Law of Minimum.” It is a term coined by biochemists Carl Sprengel and Justus von Liebig to mean that a plant’s growth is limited by the nutrient in shortest supply.

“The law traditionally states that yield is proportional to the amount of the most limiting nutrient, whichever nutrient it may be,” Dowdy says. “However, I venture to say the law also should include agronomic practices that are in our control.” These other factors, he says, include soil compaction, disease, herbicides, temperature, harvest loss, inconsistent plant emergence, and too much or too little water also can result in lost potential in addition to the lack of nutrients.
Here’s what Dowdy does to achieve his record-breaking corn yields in spite of these factors.
1.      Start planning at least a year before planting based on last year’s yield performance. “You must be willing to put some work in over the winter,” Dowdy says.
2.      Match hybrids to water availability, crop rotation, and buyer/seller contractual obligations.
3.      Soil test on 1- to 2.5-acre grids to determine soil characteristics and nutrient levels.
4.      Look at data from the combine yield monitor to determine yield loss factors.
5.      Plant slowly and match seed sizes to seed meter plates.
6.      Fertigate every seven days to feed the plant instead of the soil.
7.      Monitor tissue sample results to KNOW you have enough nutrients in the plants and react appropriately and immediately if there is a deficiency. “There’s a difference between knowing versus I have plant health.”
8.      Apply Headline fungicide at V7, V12 leaf stages and Headline AMP at R1 and R5 leaf stages.
9.      Harvest early beginning at 25% moisture corn.
10.   Be willing to succeed and fail.

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