If you hear Randy Dowdy talk about achieving high corn yields, you will discover several take-home messages. None will be more important than this: Become a student of the corn plant.
Dowdy, Valdosta, Ga., doesn’t just talk about high yields — he delivers them. He posted his second overall win in the National Corn Growers Association corn yield contest in 2016. His winning yield was 521 bushels per acre on irrigated land, achieved with a hybrid from AgriGold. While in Westfield at the AgReliant Genetics headquarters recently, Dowdy laid out his strategies and how he arrived at them. AgReliant is the parent company of AgriGold.
Here are some of Dowdy's strategies:
Dig up plants and learn. Dowdy recalls digging up seedlings in 2012 and examining the roots. At the time, he was applying starter fertilizer in a 2-inch-by-2-inch placement on one side of the row. That’s the standard approach many farmers have used for decades.
“We found that the young root going toward the starter fertilizer became bigger, fatter and happier,” he says. “The root going the other direction was healthy but wasn’t as big. It was obvious that the root hitting starter fertilizer got a faster start.” Dowdy decided to find a way to let roots on both sides of the row eat at the trough with higher soil fertility.
Act on your observations. Dowdy set up his planter so he could apply starter fertilizer on both sides of the row in 2013. He found a 32-bushel advantage for placing fertilizer on both sides of the row instead of just one side. It’s now a standard practice.
Learn to be flexible. Dowdy relates that a friend in a different state decided to try the same strategy. When he no-tilled and soil conditions were right, his friend saw a 20- to 40-bushel-per-acre advantage for placing starter on both sides of the row. However, when soil conditions weren’t right and he no-tilled with the planter rigged to apply on both sides, yields were the same or not as good. It related back to not getting proper depth placement and good stand establishment because of soil and weather conditions, Dowdy says.
Know crucial stages for critical parts of the plant. Always the student, Dowdy says that by the time corn reaches the 10- to 12-leaf stage, it’s critical to protect the ear leaf. He takes steps to make sure it remains productive.
Disease is a fact of life in southern Georgia, he says. “It’s not if you will see disease pressure, it’s a matter of when and how much,” Dowdy says. Based on this scenario, he typically applies a fungicide at V10 to V12 to protect the ear leaf.
Continue scouting, and take action when necessary. Dowdy typically applies a fungicide again in the reproductive stage when the first brown silks appear. This time, he often includes an insecticide; stinkbugs are a big issue in his area. It’s important to time that application properly, he says. Applying fungicide too early during the reproductive phase can cause arrested ear development, he observes.