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Sunray, Texas, producer takes top honors in 2020 corn yield contest, uses lessons learned to improve farm production.

Ron Smith, Editor

February 9, 2021

5 Min Read
Managing 10 sections of row crops and 13 sections in a cattle operation requires a dedicated crew, says Sunray, Texas, farmer Tommy Cartrite. He lined the crew up after the 2020 corn harvest. Crew members are, left to right: Rubin Gonzalez, Tony Gonzalez, Felipe Colli, Cesar Espino, Cartrite, Albert Alvarez, Ramon Gonzalez and Miguel Castenada.Tommy Cartrite

Tommy Cartrite puts a bit extra into his National Corn Growers Association contest plots — a little more fertilizer, a little higher plant population, and an extra fungicide application.

But he takes what he learns from that NCGA plot and applies it to his other acres.

“I have to do stuff on the contest plot I can’t do across the whole corn acreage,” Cartrite says. “I plant more seed per acre, use a starter fertilizer and apply fungicide at planting that I don’t use on my other acreage.”

Cartrite, Sunray, Texas, took top state honors in the 2020 NCGA Corn Yield Contest with 315 bushels per acre in the conventional, irrigated category.

He says things he learns from the contest help improve production across the board. “I tried Radiate, a plant growth regulator, in the contest plot. It worked well there so I use it on the rest of my corn acreage now.”

He says he’s improved irrigation efficiency as well. He found soil moisture sensors advantageous in the contest plot and added them to traditional acres.

Moisture management

“I monitor moisture levels and can pull information up from a computer or my smart phone. I see how deep moisture moves, from rainfall or irrigation.

“It is possible to overwater corn. It can run out the bottom. But I also want to make sure I water enough.”

He’s also started grid sampling to capitalize on variable rate fertility. He says he’s applying more fertilizer per bushel in the contest plot. “I adjust fertility to meet yield goals.”


Tommy Cartrite, Whitney Huckaby (daughter), Kannon Huckaby (grandson ), Kreese Huckaby (grandson ), Valerie Cartrite, Faye Cartrite (mother), Kent Cartrite (father), and Lynn Cartrite (brother) celebrate the designation as a farm in the same family for 100 years. They were honored at the Texas State Capitol in 2019. Four generations still live on the farm. (Photo courtesy of Cartrite family.)

He sets an overall yield goal at 285 bushels per acre. “I averaged just more than 284 across the board in 2020,” he says.

He plans to tweak planting date timing a bit better for his 2021 contest plot. “Last year I got tied up with cattle. We have a cow-calf operation and were artificially inseminating at planting time and we just got slammed.”

He planted May 5 but says working cattle and planting corn around the same time added stress to the operation. “Planting the corn plot is very detailed,” he says. “We need everything to emerge at the same time.”

He starts planting the regular crop the last week in April and likes to finish in early May. “That all depends on soil temperatures,” he adds. “Uniform emergence is important.”

He uses Precision Planting, which aids uniformity. “I have used yield monitors for years and can evaluate hybrid performance. That is a good tool because choosing the right hybrid is essential to making yield goals.”

Best practices

Other than tweaking that contest planting date, Cartrite plans no significant production practice changes for 2021.

He planted Pioneer 1828 on most of his acres last year and will stay with that on most of his acreage in 2021. “I planted some 1108 where I planted corn behind corn. I don’t like to plant the same hybrid back-to-back.

“I’ll look at a few new hybrids in my contest plots,” he adds. “I learn a lot about new hybrids by trying them in contest blocks.”

He’ll stay with his usual rotation program—corn, seed sorghum and cotton. “I’ll plant corn behind cotton or seed sorghum,” he says. “In fields with good water, I might alternate corn and milo. Across the rest of the acreage, I plant behind cotton or milo.”

He says the 2020 cotton crop “was horrible. We had a high wind event in early June and two mornings in September with temperature down to 34 degrees. The wind hurt it badly.”

The corn came through okay, he says.

Cartrite says milo offers good market potential. “Basis has improved because of China buying milo. I think sorghum will pull some cotton acres this year.”

But not on his farm. “I’ll stay with my normal rotation. It is a benefit. Sound rotation maximizes profits and minimizes losses.”

He recalls pushing corn acreage a bit in 2019. “We had a lot of spring rain and I planted more irrigated corn behind failed cotton acres. It did not do well.”

He says he had a lot of dropped ears and dealt with a lot of volunteer corn last year.

Cartrite started farming with his older brother when he was 16. He graduated college in 1979 and says things have changed a lot since. Equipment cost is a big one, especially for cotton harvest equipment. “We’re harvesting with a stripper-baler,” he says. The round-baler is more efficient than boll buggies and module builders.

Better varieties and hybrids also make a difference. “Early on, if someone said he was making 200 bushels of corn, no one believed it. Now, we’re on the threshold of 300 bushel an acre.”

He says cotton varieties have also moved the bar considerably higher.

Resistant weed concerns

Cartrite says he is concerned about resistant weeds. Kochia and pigweed are his worst problems. “I remember when I first saw Roundup, we could spray it on a three-foot weed and knock the leaves off.  That’s no longer the case with resistance.”

Cartrite credits his crew for much of the farm’s success. He works 10 sections of row crop land with cotton, milo, and corn; the cattle operation takes the total to 23 sections.

“It takes a dedicated crew to manage it all. When it’s time to market cattle, it’s like a grain crop ready to harvest; you can’t afford to wait. I finished cattle for the first time last year. I need good employees and most of them have been with me for a long time.”


The National Corn Yield Contest, now in its 56th year, remains NCGA’s most popular program for members, according to association sources.

“At both the state and national levels, contest winners find new ways to excel while using a variety of techniques. Ultimately, the invention and improvement by farmers and input providers enable U.S. farmers to continue to meet the future demand for critical food, feed, fuel and fiber.” said Debbie Borg, chair of NCGA’s Member and Consumer Engagement Action Team.

About the Author(s)

Ron Smith

Editor, Farm Progress

Ron Smith has spent more than 30 years covering Sunbelt agriculture. Ron began his career in agricultural journalism as an Experiment Station and Extension editor at Clemson University, where he earned a Masters Degree in English in 1975. He served as associate editor for Southeast Farm Press from 1978 through 1989. In 1990, Smith helped launch Southern Turf Management Magazine and served as editor. He also helped launch two other regional Turf and Landscape publications and launched and edited Florida Grove and Vegetable Management for the Farm Press Group. Within two years of launch, the turf magazines were well-respected, award-winning publications. Ron has received numerous awards for writing and photography in both agriculture and landscape journalism. He is past president of The Turf and Ornamental Communicators Association and was chosen as the first media representative to the University of Georgia College of Agriculture Advisory Board. He was named Communicator of the Year for the Metropolitan Atlanta Agricultural Communicators Association. Smith also worked in public relations, specializing in media relations for agricultural companies. Ron lives with his wife Pat in Denton, Texas. They have two grown children, Stacey and Nick, and two grandsons, Aaron and Hunter.

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