Every time Mike Reagan opens a bag of seed corn, he sees the opportunity to make 500 bushels per acre. This year, the Buchanan County farmer is closer, surpassing 300 bushels on a piece of land that’s been in the family for more than 40 years.
“We’ve kind of taken on the philosophy that we’re not pushing yields, we’re protecting them,” the second-generation farmer from Rushville, Mo., says. “The potential is there; some guys have done it.”
About 12 years ago, Reagan changed his crop management practices and pushed the needle higher on fertility on one piece of ground in northwest Missouri. “This farm has a lot of potential,” he explains. “We are getting really good yields here, but we want to see what it can do.”
The approach seems to be working. Reagan started farming just after graduating high school in 1978. Today, along with his wife and son, they raise corn and soybeans in southern Buchanan County and a few acres in Platte County.
After 40 years, the family posted a yield of 303 bushels per acre, a top-three Missouri finish, in the 2020 National Corn Growers yield contest no-till nonirrigated category.
Farming at a glance
Every field Reagan farms is no-till. Before the planting season even starts, he puts on 200 pounds of anhydrous in the fall.
Reagan never plants his competition plot on the first day of the season. “We make sure we have the planter tuned up and ready to go,” he says. The family typically starts planting corn the second week in April. The National Corn Growers yield competition field went in April 23.
He places fertilizer in-furrow during planting. While Reagan admits it takes extra time, he “would not plant corn without it now.” The corn grower says the in-furrow system offers more options for fertilizer management, such as using biological nitrogen fixation products.
Reagan’s fertilizer of choice for the farm is turkey litter from barns in southern Missouri. Reagan uses a couple of tons as a starter fertilizer, but he also comes back in-season with an application.
When the corn plant reaches V4 or V5 stage, much of the post applications take place. Reagan topdresses another 40 pounds of nitrogen, applies another herbicide, fungicide and foliar feed. Before tasseling, he repeats the entire process.
Consulting a professional
Reagan takes the old saying “surround yourself with smart people” to heart. “That’s what we try to do,” he says. “We ask a lot of questions, and we listen.”
Throughout the years, the relationship with his seed dealer, Todd Pedersen, helped in the quest for higher yields. Pedersen was one source who pointed Reagan toward the right corn hybrid for each field.
This year, it was Dekalb DKC 70-27RIB. It is a full-season corn hybrid at 120-day maturity that Reagan says is impressive all season long.
After planting it two years ago, Reagan dubs it the “green monster.” The Dekalb corn hybrid was big and tall. “When we pulled in with the combine and started picking there, that monitor bounced way up over 300 several times,” he says. “We knew we had to try some more.” So, last year, he put it on the best family farm ground.
“Mike is one of those progressive farmers,” says Pedersen, a Bayer field sales representative located in northwest Missouri. “He always wants to do better. He accepts technology whether it’s new hybrids or precision agriculture. He’s always been great at that.”
Higher plant populations are a cornerstone of realizing high yields, Pedersen says. Still, this type of crop management practice restricts some farmers in those higher-yield environments because of all the things they can’t control.
Stresses of weather and environmental factors affecting plant performance limit producer buy-in to increasing populations. “As we plant at higher populations, the plants start to cannibalize,” Pedersen explains. “That’s just tougher to accept.” But Reagan does.
“He is just one guy who doesn’t stress about it,” Pedersen adds. “These hybrids today can handle a lot more than even those from five years ago.”
Contingency crop plan
The seed dealer and farmer work together and develop a whole farm plan for each growing season, along with an individualized plan for the competition field. It is not simply a crop management plan, but more of a crop disaster plan as well.
“We’re thinking outside the box, like what are we going to see this season,” Pedersen explains. “It is almost predicting what is going to come before it happens, so we can jump on it, whether that is deficiencies, insect pressure or diseases.” Then the two make a contingency crop management plan.
This includes the type of nutrients or chemicals to counteract any stress on the corn crop. They rely on observations and data from the previous year. But it is not just a plan on paper. Reagan is active in the field to get ahead of any insect or disease pressure.
During the growing season, there is plenty of crop scouting and tissue sampling. The best part, Pedersen says, is these techniques allow you to know what the plant needs and respond immediately. He says that is the beauty of the contingency plan: “You already know how to respond.”
Manage each farm
Reagan admits that every farm field in his northwest Missouri operation comes with a different yield expectation. Some of the less productive farms have “good corn” going over 200 bushels per acre. Then there are fields in the hills that run between 180 and 185 bushels.
Each farm also has its own insect and disease pressures. However, he uses the yield contest field to test his high-yielding crop management practices first.
“This is our experimental farm,” Reagan explains. “Once we dial in the management, we’ll start spreading it out across our acres.”