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Farmer plants 50th consecutive corn test plot with same company

Georgia farmer Joe Boddiford planted the 50th straight Pioneer corn test plot on his farm on April 3.

Brad Haire, Executive Editor

May 26, 2023

4 Min Read
Joe and Knapp Boddiford beside corn planter.
The golden anniversary corn test plot went in the ground April 3 on the Boddiford farm in Sylvania, Ga., located about an hour north of Savannah and near the South Carolina line. And Joe Boddiford and his son, Knapp, planted it. Kevin Phillips

At a Glance

  • A blight disease hit the area in the late-1960s and greatly hindered corn farming.
  • Planting and harvesting the test plots has evolved over the years.

Joe Boddiford was 23 when he started farming on his own full time. It was also when he first planted a corn test plot on his farm in cooperation with Pioneer. He’s still farming, and he planted another corn test plot on his farm this year with Pioneer, for the 50th straight year.

The golden anniversary corn test plot went in the ground April 3 on the Boddiford farm in Sylvania, Ga., located about an hour north of Savannah and near the South Carolina line. Boddiford planted the test with his son, Knapp, who farms with him.

Let’s step back 50 years, though. Boddiford’s family has farmed the area for generations and were also in the chemical and seed business there.

“There was a lot of corn in this area around then because everybody grew hogs. My memory says that Pioneer wasn't much of a presence back in that day and time here. But around that time, I got to know a fellow named Melvin Johnson, who was the Pioneer salesman,” he said.

A blight disease hit the area in the late-1960s, he said, and greatly hindered corn farming. But Pioneer had released a variety with resistance to the blight. Johnson asked Boddiford if he’d like to test that new blight-resistant variety on his farm. He did, and there it started.

He doesn’t remember exactly how large the first blight-resistant test plot was on his farm. But in the back of his mind, Boddiford sees a 40-to-50-acre field with about 15 acres dedicated to that initial test. Measuring a variety’s performance then was a bit more art than science, but the test showed good promise on his farm.

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Back in that mid-70s and a few years before irrigation made it to the Boddiford farm, he said a corn grower in the area would hope for a 100-bushel average. Today, a grower hopes for much more.

Planting and harvesting the test plots has evolved over the years, “But we still try to minimize aggravation here, and I like to run a check next to the test in the field.”

Keep things moving

These days, Boddiford uses a 12-row planter and an eight-row corn head. For the April 3 test, in the eight right-side hoppers of the planter, he put a check variety. In the four left-side hoppers of the planter, he put the test variety.

“That way we go the full length of the field and turn around with the planter, and that gives you eight solid rows of the test to harvest (these days with a yield monitor) and compare with the check. We only clean out four hoppers every round, which keeps us moving along with planting when we need to,” he said.

Boddiford doesn’t claim to be a corn yield chaser like some contest farmers who push yields to the heights of 600 bushels per acre. The Georgia farmer of the year in 2004 is known more for peanuts than corn. Boddiford has served on the board of the Georgia Peanut Commission for many years and is the commission’s current chairman. But corn, along with cotton and peanuts, has played an important rotational and economical spot in his fields.

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The test plots get treated just like his commercial acres. Over the years, he’s learned some things, he said. Today, he makes a 200-bushel corn average or better consistently across the farm.

“No. 1 thing we do is zone soil sample to get your fertility and Ph adjusted correctly. And I found planting on a little bit of a bed helps me because we have some low, flat ground where a two- or three-inch rain can hurt you,” he said.

Boddiford has planted and tested corn varieties from other companies on the farm, and they’ve done well, he said. But the Pioneer varieties have worked out best on his farm.

“Every farm is different, the soils, the environment, and the growing conditions. But whatever we do, we must shoot for that return on investment,” he said. “That’s why I like to have that testing and data collection on my farm and see and know what works for my conditions here. And I hope the arrangement has also helped Pioneer or even other farmers over the years.”

Going for 100?

Kevin Phillips is the regional agronomist for Corteva, which owns the Pioneer brand now. He was there when the Boddiford’s planted the 50th test plot.

“His commitment to the product-knowledge plot testing process has provided the litmus test for many new hybrids and trait technologies for the last 50 years. Fifty years is a long commitment to anything and making Pioneer plots a priority for this length of time is definitely worth recognizing. We are grateful for his cooperation for this time,” Phillips said.

Will the corn testing partnership go another 50 years? Boddiford doesn’t expect to see that centennial celebration if it happens. His age at that time would make more news than just 100 straight years of a corn test. However, his son Knapp might see that centennial plot on the farm. He’d be 78 by then.

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