Standing in the field along the Thompson River in northern Missouri, Adrian Cox pauses to consider what his grandfather would think of corn yields today.
“He used to pick that field by hand, he and my grandmother with a team of horses and wagon,” he says. “She would pick down rows and he the standing.”
Back then, the corn would yield anywhere from 30 to 40 bushels per acre. In 2018, Cox recorded the highest yield off that very land at 318.9 bushels per acre in a dry year.
“It is amazing what technology has done in the last 60 years,” the Grundy County farmer says. The owner of Cox Motorsports, where he specializes in fixing pulling tractors, has a bit of a competitive streak.
He has been reaching for higher yields on his family farm for the past 20 years. “It has been a lot of fun to push to see how good of a yield nonirrigated corn can get without much water,” he says.
Last year did not disappoint. Under extreme drought conditions, Cox managed to best all Missouri producers on nonirrigated land in the National Corn Growers Association Yield Contest. He says success was possible because of land from the past, people in the present and technology of the future.
The right piece of land
Knowing how land performs year in and year out is critical to producing contest-worthy yields. For Cox, it is a 42-acre piece in Grundy County labeled on field maps as “everybody’s favorite field.”
This portion of the farm is in the river bottom. Actually, the old river wraps around it. “On a dry year, this particular farm does really well,” he says. And 2018 was an exceptionally dry year.
Climate reports sent to his iPad showed only 5.6 inches of rain from germination to black layer. Cox thought despite this field’s winning record, it would not compete this year. “In the height of the drought when temperatures were at 100 degrees, wind blowing and no rain for three weeks, I thought about not trying for the contest,” he says. But then he saw a stalk of corn. It did not look stressed. There was potential for the corn to make it.
“You have to know your ground,” he says. “Sometimes we underestimate its ability to produce.”
Work with a professional
Cox relies on his Dekalb seed salesman and the crop advisers at Genesis Ag to help create a plan from seed selection to season-long crop applications. He says it is important to find individuals you trust.
Dekalb seed dealer Brad Tolson has a longtime relationship with Cox, almost 20 years. “He started with me shortly after I started farming,” Cox says. “He knows my farms, he is well-versed and understands how the dirt works here.”
Choosing the right corn variety is important. This year, Tolson chose Dekalb Disease Shield DKC64-35RIB Brand Blend. “It is a racehorse corn,” Cox adds. It also was the first time planting that variety.
“He recognized that it would work on this field. He was right,” Cox says.
When it comes to fertilizer applications, seed treatments and biologicals, Cox turns to Mark Rothermich with Genesis Ag. “I get a full meal deal with him,” he says. “It is a full program of what to use and when.” Cox likes the extra set of eyes on his crop to see things he doesn’t, such as when the crop needs a late-season boost.
Sweeten the crop
Ten years ago, Cox attended a conference and heard fellow Missouri corn grower Charles Hinkebein talk about the importance of sugar to achieving higher yields. It was a revolutionary concept at the time, but one he had to try.
So, he went to the local grocery store. “I was probably the only guy who went to the cash register with a $600 bakery ticket,” Cox says laughing.
In the early years, Cox bought sugar by the pallet. He would take individual bags, dump them and mix it into the sprayer before heading out to the field. It was a lot of work.
Then Genesis Ag came out with Carbose, a liquid source of sugars and sugar-generating bacteria, and it came in a jug. “It was easy to handle,” he says.
Cox says sugar is important in managing corn for higher yields. He applies it later in the season when stressors set in such as pests and weather. Sugar provides the instant energy the plants need, he says.
Sugar still is in his crop plan today. However, he adds products such as micronutrients and biologicals to the mix.
The fourth-generation farmer is grateful for the advancements in technology and the people who help him achieve his yield goals. Yet, his thoughts always go back to those who first plowed this piece of ground.
“There are not a lot of people that are blessed and get to farm this kind of dirt, this kind of soil,” he says. “I am fortunate to have this to farm.”