Winning the state corn yield contest is a feat relatively few farmers accomplish. Tough competition. Some have entered for many years, never winning. They keep entering because they learn a lot through the contest and apply those lessons to improve their farm’s overall yield and bottom line.
Brant Voss won last year at age 26, producing 306.34 bushels per acre, the highest yield in the National Corn Growers Association contest in the AA Nonirrigated category for Iowa. Farming with his family near Dexter in west-central Iowa, Voss decided to enter the contest after sitting in his Iowa State University agronomy class. He listened to a guest speaker, David Hula, the NCGA national corn yield record holder.
Brant farms with his family — father Brent, mother Teresa and brother Bryton. They raise corn and soybeans, have a large Angus cow herd and feed out several hundred steers. In 2018, they harvested 245 bushels per acre as the average for all their corn acres. Brant’s goal is to someday reach 300 bushels per acre for the farm average.
Recipe for winning yield
Key contributors to his contest-winning yield of 306 bushels in 2018 were choosing the right hybrid to plant, having the right equipment, feeding the crop at planting time and choosing the right seed treatment.
“We also pushed up our population,” says Brant, whose father has been planting corn in a 20-inch row width for 20 years. “We’ve had success with narrow-row corn and stayed with it. It lets us increase the plant population per acre and space the plants out to capture more of the sunlight falling on each acre.”
Choosing the right genetics and planting accuracy are important. “You need a hybrid with a strong stalk that can stand all season long,” says Brant, who won with Dekalb DKC64-34RIB. The contest plot was part of a 210-acre field, which averaged 262 bushels per acre, not including the plot yield.
Get corn off to good start
“We can’t control much concerning Mother Nature, but we can focus on making sure we give corn a good start, including good seed-to-soil contact,” says Brant. His dad handles all the planting, using a Deere ExactEmerge planter with hydraulic downforce. Brant’s grandpa, Carl Drost with Van Wall Equipment in Oskaloosa, helps them with advice on getting the planter set up and adjusted.
The planter’s down pressure helps ensure consistent seed depth. “This planter did a phenomenal job last year, and 2019 is our second year using it,” Brant says. “Seed placement was perfect; we had a picket-fence stand. Emergence was great, as it all came up at the same time.”
He’s a believer in feeding the plant at planting time with micronutrients, and phosphorus and potassium are applied in-furrow. “I learned this based on contest plot acres, and now we use it on all our corn acres. It boosts the yield potential of the seed,” Brant says.
Their fertilizer plan includes fall anhydrous applied at variable rate, fall-applied P and K, and starter fertilizer in spring. They are in a corn-soybean rotation and didn’t plant any continuous corn in 2018. To prepare ground for corn planting, they chisel in the fall about a foot deep and use a mulch finisher in spring.
Foliar fungicide applied
There were big swings in month-to-month rainfall last year, Brant says. “We got a lot of rain in May and June. After July 4, we didn’t get another drop until the second or third week of August. There was enough subsoil moisture to pull the crop through until rainfall returned in late August to help grain fill.”
They usually apply foliar fungicide on all corn acres and did so in 2018. For the contest field, they emphasized plant health by making three fungicide applications. The first was at V6, followed by a second application at tasseling. Another application in mid-August helped the contest plot stay green so plants could fill the grain as long as possible.
Contest field planted early
The contest field was planted April 15. Snowdrifts were still in the ditches. Soil temperature at a 4-inch depth was 46 degrees F, but the forecast was for 70 to 80 degrees for daytime highs. “We knew the soil was going to warm up right away, so we went ahead and began planting,” Brant says. “The contest field was the first we planted.”
Voss Farms uses Climate FieldView technology. “It’s efficient and convenient, providing data at your fingertips,” he says. “And at the end of harvest, it tells us what seed matches best with specific soil types, as it helps us keep track of performance.”
Competitions like the National Corn Yield Contest provide an opportunity to try new ideas that might be beneficial across the whole farm, Brant says. “It’s fun to try new ideas and see if they’ll work in the plots. If there’s something we can take away from the plot and increase yields in our farming operation, it’s a success. I’ve always been curious to see how far we can push our yields with today’s technology and genetics.”
Other 2018 NCGA contest category winners in Iowa were:
- No-till/strip-till nonirrigated — John Ruff, Monona, 333.09 bushels per acre, Pioneer P1366AM
- No-till/strip-till irrigated — Connor Garrett, Arion, 326.05 bushels per acre, LG Seeds LF5618VTPRIB
- Irrigated — Mike Williams, Amana Farms crops manager, 302.15 bushels per acre, Pioneer P1197E
Pushing corn plant populations
For the contest plots, Voss Farms plants 44,000 seeds per acre; the rest of their cornfields are at 38,000. “The reason we keep everything at 38,000 is there really isn’t a proven return for going higher,” Brant says. “We are still researching this in our fields, trying to see if a higher population is the way to go. Or do we need to stay at 38,000 or maybe back off a little to 36,000 on some fields.”
He adds, “Some people will tell you we are planting too thick and others say no, you could go a little higher than 38,000 kernels per acre. So, we’re doing our own research to find the answer for our farming conditions. For the yield contest plots, we bumped them up because we felt like the more plants, the higher the yield potential. Of course, you have to apply enough fertilizer to feed a higher population.”
Hybrid choice, helpful advice
For his contest entry, Brant worked with his DeKalb dealer to select a high-yielding hybrid with SmartStax RIB Complete technology to ensure the crop would remain healthy all season long. “It’s important to select the right hybrid when you push plant populations up,” Brant says. “You need a hybrid that will stand strong.”
SmartStax RIB Complete products provide above- and belowground insect protection. The refuge-in-bag hybrid Brant planted for the contest field was Dekalb DKC64-34RIB.
“We consult with Nick Hoffman our Dekalb/Asgrow sales rep and district agronomist Sue Brakhane on hybrid choices. With their advice, we planted the SmartStax hybrid. We also discuss hybrid choices with Menz AgriSales at Perry. They sell seed and get feedback from farmers who try different hybrids, plant populations and practices.”
How many different hybrids does Voss Farms plant? “Usually four, across all our corn acres,” Brant says. “Everything we plant is either 113- or 114-day corn. We get our best yields from these longer-season hybrids for our maturity zone. Of course, they’re all ready to harvest at about the same time.”