Hunter Hooper, a farmer in Brownsville, Tenn., won a national placement in the 2020 National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) yield contest. The yield contest winner endorses simple management practices to improve overall yields, such as improving soil fertility, using irrigation, and waiting for the right conditions to start planting.
"I grow about 5,000 acres in corn, wheat, and soybeans," Hooper said. "I did grow some cotton for the last few years, but I did not have any this past year."
The family farm was started by Hooper's father in 1981.
"My father started the farm on his own, so luckily, I had a little help getting started in the business," he said. "My dad and I farmed together for four years starting around 1995. We had about 1,200 acres at that time, and I grew it to about 5,000 now."
NCGA yield contest
Hooper started participating in the National Corn Growers Association yield contest in 2011.
"I've been involved with NCGA's corn grower deal for about nine years now," he said. "I just wanted to try it out and see what I could do, and then I won first in my state in the 2012 yield contest. This year is my seventh state win in my category and my first national placement.
"I have learned a lot through being a part of the contest. It has been a lot of trial and error to see what works and what doesn't. Sometimes, we've had some misses, but in the last few years, we've been consistent with our yields."
Consistently, Hooper has been around the 315 to 330 bushels an acre yield range in corn. His national placement in 2020 was won with Dekalb DKC66-18 at 327 bushels per acre.
Later planted corn
As it did with many farms in 2020, the weather during planting season pushed back Hooper's planting dates.
"The 2020 planting season was rough right out of the gate," Hooper said. "We planted some soybeans first instead of corn because we've found in recent years that planting corn later than normal does a lot better for us. We didn't start planting corn until May 1, and we usually plant around the middle of April. We've found by waiting a little bit longer the corn stand comes up better than previously."
Thanks to the high-speed planter the crops were planted quickly, but soon afterward, there was a dry spell.
"Luckily, we got a few showers here and there, and while it was a drier year, we had a good crop," he said. "Considering all the crop went through, I was very pleased."
Hooper wasn't the only farmer who experienced higher yields on later planted corn. In Mississippi, the National Corn Growers Association state yield winner produced a 294 bushel an acre yield, also planted on May 1.
"I learned over time that it pays off to wait for the right planting conditions," Hooper said. "Two years ago, I replanted 500 acres that didn't get a good stand. I tore it all up and replanted it around the second week of May, and it was the best corn crop I ever had.
"Every year is different, but you need the patience to wait on the right planting conditions as well as the equipment ready to plant as soon as possible. Timing is everything."
High yield practices
Rotation for soil fertility is one of the number one management practices Hooper implements on his farm for high yields.
"You are only as good as the ground you work," he said. "Rotation is one of the main things we do to increase fertility. We usually do corn and follow it with wheat in the fall, and then plant the soybeans right in the wheat straw for three crops in two years.
"That's what I've found works to increase revenue. We used to plant more cotton. A lot of times it's hard to make that kind of revenue you get with cotton without going into a double-crop situation, but you can sometimes do even better by planting multiple crops on the same ground throughout the year."
Hooper's farm is no-till or has minimum tillage as well as cover crops. He also says that irrigation has made a world of a difference on his farm by eliminating one of the biggest factors, which is the hot, dry weather.
"We run about nine center pivots," Hooper said. "We started irrigation in 2007, which was a great year for irrigation because it was really dry that year. Irrigation changed the game for us. When you eliminate the possibility of crop damage from dry weather, all I must worry about is getting a good stand, and we can take care of it from there.
"There is no such thing as one practice that increases yields and profits, but it is a lot of small practices which make a significant difference. These are a few simple management practices that have had an impact on my farm."