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Kansas farmer pushes plant populations, applies fungicide for high corn yields.

Mindy Ward, Editor, Missouri Ruralist

March 16, 2021

4 Min Read
Kansas farmer Jeff Koelzer
READY TO ROLL: Kansas farmer Jeff Koelzer is ready to push corn yields even higher in #Plant21. He topped Kansas during last year’s NCGA Corn Yield Contest.Jeff Koelzer

Jeff Koelzer has a “honey hole” of sorts on his Kansas farm known for growing big bushels. While the river bottom ground lends to fertile land, he says it is more about the planting time sweet spot that leads to high corn yields.

“It is April 15 to April 30,” says the fourth-generation farmer from Onaga, Kan. “I’ve hardly ever had big yields when I planted in May.”

Last year, Koelzer got into that field at the right time with Dekalb 6357 RIB and posted a 323-bushel corn yield, leading Kansas in the 2020 National Corn Yield Contest. It came from the Strip-, Min-, Mulch-, Ridge-Till Non-Irrigated category.

That field on the farm had produced NCGA contest winners before, but never at this level of yield. Of course, Koelzer points out, there’s never been 15 inches of rain in July, either.

He went into the 2020 corn planting season dry. Then it turned wet. “It all came together last year for us in this area,” he says of Pottawatomie County in northeast Kansas. However, some corn acres missed the window and suffered. “Later corn didn’t get any rain at all after July.”

It took in-season management to achieve these high corn yields.

Pushing planting limits

Galen Niehues has been working with Koelzer for the past 23 years. “He’s always trying the newest hybrids,” the Dekalb Asgrow Field Representative notes. “Jeff does not stay with an old one very long. He wants the newest genetics.”

Last year was the first year Dekalb 6357 corn hybrid was available for farmers. It is one known to have good heat tolerance and performs well in high plant populations; however, Niehues says “high” is relative.

“In places like Illinois and eastern Iowa, farmers are going to plant above 40,000,” he explains. “In Kansas, most farmers, even on better ground, won’t go above 30,000.” Koelzer pushes populations closer to that 40,000 mark.

But if Niehues must point to one thing that separates Koelzer from the pack, it is his use of fungicides.

Eye on the details

“We spray fungicide on almost every acre,” Koelzer notes of the crop management practice that really took hold in 2019. “That year it was super-wet,” he explains. “We knew we had problems. We took tissue samples. We aerial-sprayed every acre of our corn that year.” And while the cost of fungicide is $20 to $30 an acre to fly on, it worked, leading to a 30- to 40-bushel increase from projected yields.

But it is more than timely fungicide applications. Koelzer starts the corn competition acres with fall anhydrous. He comes back with a dual placement of phosphate and potash in the row. With the amount of fertility, there’s a potential for burn on the roots, so he plants seed 4 to 5 inches off the row.

There are also an aerial application of nitrate, an over-the-top herbicide spray, a nitrogen enhancer and fungicide. He will come back again in July with aerial plans for another nitrogen enhancer application.

While the system works on a small, select piece of river bottom ground, Koelzer says he uses certain crop management production practices across all farm acres. He also keeps an eye out and treats the corn crop at the first sign of southern rust or gray leaf spot.

This attention to detail with his corn crop makes Koelzer believe that yields on the farm can go even higher.

Next-level thinking

Ten years ago in Kansas, if a corn farmer hit the 200-bushel-per-acre mark, Koelzer says, “You were gonna call them a liar. Today, you’re like, ‘Well, that did pretty good.’”

The corn industry continues to advance higher-yielding hybrids. Koelzer this year will plant one “that is supposed to have more yield potential than any hybrid they’ve ever put out.”

He continues to experiment with hybrids that yield well, because the future of the farm depends on it. Koelzer hopes his sons will be able to return to the farm, and producing more on less makes it a financially sound decision. The ultimate goal is to keep that high-corn-yielding honey hole in the family for generations to come.

Top tip for high-yielding corn

The key is patience.

Don’t get in a hurry. Koelzer waits until his soil is in the right condition. “One thing I notice about him,” says Dekalb Asgrow field sales representative Niehues, “is, he doesn’t get too excited and in a big hurry.”

So often Niehaus sees farmers planting corn as quick as possible to beat the heat in the summer. It is a sound idea, but he notes that too often, the soil is not warm enough. Koelzer waits, he says. “The right soil condition allows the plan to get off to a good start and keep going.” That is the difference in many cases between hybrids underachieving and performing optimally.

About the Author(s)

Mindy Ward

Editor, Missouri Ruralist

Mindy resides on a small farm just outside of Holstein, Mo, about 80 miles southwest of St. Louis.

After graduating from the University of Missouri-Columbia with a bachelor’s degree in agricultural journalism, she worked briefly at a public relations firm in Kansas City. Her husband’s career led the couple north to Minnesota.

There, she reported on large-scale production of corn, soybeans, sugar beets, and dairy, as well as, biofuels for The Land. After 10 years, the couple returned to Missouri and she began covering agriculture in the Show-Me State.

“In all my 15 years of writing about agriculture, I have found some of the most progressive thinkers are farmers,” she says. “They are constantly searching for ways to do more with less, improve their land and leave their legacy to the next generation.”

Mindy and her husband, Stacy, together with their daughters, Elisa and Cassidy, operate Showtime Farms in southern Warren County. The family spends a great deal of time caring for and showing Dorset, Oxford and crossbred sheep.

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