Most farmers agree that rotating crops is a good practice, particularly in areas where you have numerous options like the Mid-South.
But what if you don’t have a choice, if the ground you have is best suited to one particular crop from an economic standpoint? That’s the issue that has confronted Jackson Webb for several years.
“We lost 1,000 acres to duck hunters and to our neighbors,” says Webb, who farms with his father, Jack, near Sumner, Miss. “Basically, they took our best cotton ground so we had to figure out something else. We have found that continuous corn can be done with good results.”
The farm that has been in Webb’s family for five generations has always had some corn. The operation included cattle at one time, and Jackson Webb’s father, Jack, grew corn for silage. Historically, the Delta had almost as much corn as it had cotton to feed the large number of mules required to till and plant the soils in pre-tractor days.
But the farm’s corn acreage had gradually gotten smaller until the shakeup in leases occurred in the early 2000s. That’s when Jackson Webb began to consider his options.
“A lot of the kind of land we were left with usually goes to soybeans,” he says. “But we’ve never been able to make the kind of yields we need with soybeans. We have found we can push corn and get higher production.”
Like many growers, Webb is reluctant to talk about yields especially with this year being such an anomaly. But he says his dryland and irrigated corn yields with be above 200 bushels per acre. About 70 percent of his acres are in continuous corn.
“When corn is $3.25 a bushel, we can’t be happy with 185 bushels per acre,” he said. “My only option is to increase yields, and it’s not getting any easier with cash rents that were set when corn was at $6 and $7 per bushel.”
On the day he was interviewed in late September, Webb had finished his 2014 harvest and was helping a neighbor cut milo. Despite the sharp drop in corn prices that occurred between planting and harvest, Webb was happy with his year.
“I think we’ve all known that corn prices were due for a correction,” he said. “Through Wayne Dulaney (AgVenture), I’ve met a lot of guys in the Midwest, and we knew they had a good crop last year. This year’s crop put the finishing touch on high corn prices for now.”
Webb credits Dulaney for helping increase yields so that his bottom line is better able to withstand the downturn in prices. “I don’t want to sound like a commercial for AgVenture, but Wayne has been with me every step of the way. You have to be able to partner with someone who can help you achieve the higher yields with continuous corn.”
Dulaney provides input on new hybrids that are better suited for Webb’s farm. “Wayne doesn’t just suggest hybrids,” says Webb. “He’s in my fields regularly to follow up and make sure I have the best hybrid on my best dirt.”
For Webb, the 2015 crop year began this fall when he rowed up his corn ground. In two out of three years, he burns off the fields to reduce the residue load in the field. Every third year, he leaves the stubble to be disked into the ground and added to its organic matter.
He applies 1.5 ounces per acre of LeadOff in late fall to keep the seedbeds clean through the winter and early spring. When weeds do emerge in the spring, he sprays glyphosate and atrazine prior to planting.
“We didn’t run a do-all before we planted this spring, and we had a perfect stand,” he says. “The key is to stay clean through the winter and be ready to plant when the soil temperatures are right in the spring.”
Webb elects to use the higher (1250) rate of Poncho seed treatment on his continuous corn. He also includes Maxim Quattro, Raxil and Votivo – as a nematicide. The seed also receives a custom treatment of zinc, which was recommended by Wayne Dulaney.
It might be an overstatement to say that Webb spoon feeds fertilizer to his corn, but not much of one. He begins with five gallons of NutraLink pop-up, starter fertilizer in-furrow. At the same time, he’s running 50 units of 30-0-0 in a 2X2 placement with the planter. He includes 3 ounces of Headline fungicide with the starter.
He uses a cultivator to pull the middles in his corn to make sure he can get water down the furrows when he begins irrigating – and get water off during the periods of rain that seem to have been more frequent in the last two years.
Webb applies 125 units of nitrogen side-dress at the V-5 stage or when the corn is 1 to 1.5 feet tall. He then sprays Halex and atrazine a week to 10 days later. “We then apply 100 units of urea by air as close to tassel as we can get,” he notes.
“At silking, Webb closely monitors the plants and conditions before deciding which fungicide to apply, whether it be Headline or Quadris. Fungicide selection can change depending on conditions.
Each of those rates and timings is subject to change because Webb takes tissue samples prior to tasseling to determine if the corn is getting enough of what it needs to reach its yield potential.
“That’s where having partners like Jonathan Fortner at Helena Chemical Co., comes in handy,” he said. “Jonathan and Wayne (Dulaney) got together and suggested we apply the fungicide with CoRon to help get it into the plant. We think it’s paying off in consistently higher corn yields.”
Those relationships are key when help is needed quickly. “I had some dryland corn that turned purple. I was able to send Wayne and Jonathan a picture of it and get an answer on what was causing it.”
2014 was not a major irrigation year because of the frequent rainfalls that occurred in the north Delta. Webb irrigated some fields once or twice, some not at all. When it turned dry in the region in late July and early August, most of the corn was done.
In general, Webb harvests his corn at 23 percent to 25 percent moisture and dries the corn with a continuous-flow dryer prior to putting it in his bins. “We try to never let it dry in the field,” he says. “This year we were late, but we normally begin harvesting the last week in July or the first week in August. We’re always subject to a hurricane at harvest so we’re not leaving it in the field any longer than we have to.”
The farm has 175,000 bushels of storage capacity, which Webb says, “is never enough. I’m glad my Dad had the foresight to see what worked best for us on our farm and decided to invest in grain bins, which have paid off tremendously.”
Besides getting the corn safely into storage, Mid-South growers often get a premium for delivering corn early in their harvest. The premium this summer got as high as 40 cents per bushel.
Webb says he considers himself fortunate to have the benefit of the years of experience of his father, Jack. Webb returned to the farm 16 years ago, not long after his grandfather died. “My grandfather taught my Dad and James Pimpton, who I consider family and continues to teach me every day.
“After I had been back on the farm for a while, my father started turning over more and more of the operation to me,” he said. “Because of him, it was one of the smoothest transitions I’ve ever seen. He really has made us what we are today – without him, all of this comes to a screeching halt.”
“My Dad and I have always been very hands on,” he says. “We’re having to use intensive management on the continuous corn, but it is doable. That’s because we have good partners who are very much involved in making it work.”
“It takes more intensive management, but that’s what you have to do if you’re going to continue to get a high rate of return from continuous corn.”