Farm Progress

"… at the end of the day all that matters is return on investment. It’s one thing to make the yields, it’s another thing to make the yields and make money.”

Forrest Laws

August 31, 2015

5 Min Read
<p><em>Randy Dowdy, the Georgia producer who grew 503.79 bushels per acre for the National Corn Growers Association yield contest in 2014, talks to members of the ag media at an event sponsored by BASF at the Memphis, Tenn., Agricenter.</em></p>

Randy Dowdy already knows whether he has broken the 503.79-bushel-per-acre record he set in the National Corn Growers Association National Corn Yield Contest on his farm near Pavo, Ga., in 2014.

That’s because Dowdy, who spoke at a BASF Grow Smart Media Event at the Memphis, Tenn., Agricenter at the end of August, harvested his 2015 corn crop in July. But whether he broke it or not isn’t a pressing concern for Dowdy because, to him, it’s not all about yields.

“We’ve got some lofty goals, and we have some ground that will achieve those goals, and we have some ground where you just have to be realistic,” he says. “But at the end of the day all that matters is return on investment. It’s one thing to make the yields, it’s another thing to make the yields and make money.”

The main concern Dowdy seems to have on this unusually mild August afternoon in Memphis is whether he can exceed the 100-bushel-plus soybean yield he also achieved in 2014. The 110.66 bushels per acre documented on Dowdy’s farm made him the first farmer ever to grow 500-bushel corn and 100-bushel soybeans the same year.

Dowdy did not talk about his 2015 corn yield in Memphis. (Traditionally, growers don’t discuss their entries before the NCYC results are announced in December.) But he said he has hopes of replicating or bettering last year’s world-record corn mark and exceeding 110-bushel soybeans.

“As far as beans are concerned, if we could make 140 bushels in our second year, that’s pretty exciting,” he said. “And we’re looking to see if we can break that 160 yield, to see if we can duplicate what someone else has done and make it go higher. (Kip Cullers of Purdy, Mo., holds the current soybean record of 160.6 bushels per acre.)

The 10 percent

“When you do that, people realize the potential is greater than what they’re used to. When I’m giving these talks, I feel like about 10 percent might be listening to try something different. That 10 percent is where change comes from. Imagine if we still drove horse and buggies?”

Dowdy describes himself as a “first-generation” farmer. “I learned real quick you have to surround yourself with people who are smarter than yourself, and you don’t always have to reinvent the wheel,” he noted. “We’ve reached out to university, to industry professionals, and then we do a lot of on-farm trial work ourselves.”

Other growers have asked him how he knew he had the potential to make 500-bushel corn yields on his farm, which he and others have described as having less than optimum soils for high yields?

“Everybody wants to grow high yields,” he said. “Whether that goal is 300-bushel corn or 400-bushel corn, it all starts with a 300-bushel or 400-bushel or a 500-bushel stand. How do you assess that? You have to be a student of the crop; you have to be constantly learning and to understand the focus of what it takes to grow that crop.”

Corn breeders say a bag of seed has the potential to produce 600 bushels per acre.

“Where do you capture that potential and where do you lose it?” he asks. “To do that, especially with the 500-bushel goal, we knew we had to start off with a good stand. We incorporated some proactive measures to make sure we didn’t have seedling loss, including using some fungicides in-furrow.”

Not a perfect year

Some have thought Dowdy must have had a perfect growing season to produce an average of 503 bushels in 2014. He didn’t.

“Obviously, we were cool and wet last year,” he said, referring to the unusually heavy spring rains in the Southeast. “We got a 4-inch rain two days after we planted. For all the damage it did, it was a good thing for the soil type because it melted the clods and improved seed-to-soil contact.”

Most of Dowdy’s soils are sandy loams with a clay base. Some of what he farms is comparable to a beach sand.

“In the beginning, I had no preconceived notions about what would work and what wouldn’t work. I was like a sponge, willing to try anything. I think that’s part of the resistance of most farmers. They’re resistant to change or doing things they’re not comfortable with.

“The obvious disadvantages are capital, resources, land, the whole infrastructure. You need someone you can ask questions of, someone you trust to help steer you away from making mistakes. When we got started, I was vulnerable, but I was willing to take a chance.”

Offered number of opportunities

Dowdy spoke about his connection with BASF’s Grow Smart program in Memphis. “They offered us a lot of opportunities, including financing, and that worked well. Can you imagine going in to a banker and asking to borrow money on chemicals and seed when tractors, planters, center pivots and land are already financed?”

He concedes he asks a lot of questions – “I may ask the same question 42 times and try to be thorough,” he said. Participants in a panel discussion at the BASF Grow Smart event said that’s become Randy’s trademark.

“He challenges all of us,” said Kyle Richardson, an agronomist with Southern States Cooperative who participated in a discussion with Dowdy and Chris Maurer and Sandy Newell of BASF. “He’s very inquisitive. He makes me think about what I’m telling him.”

Why is Dowdy willing to share information with other growers? “When I got started, I went to the farmers around me. I asked questions constantly of growers that I saw who were successful. I batted about .500. About 50 percent shared things, and I guess the other 50 percent considered me a threat.

“When you go to places like Commodity Classic where you had this great concentration of growers with high contest yields, the information dropped to about 10 percent. Some of them were really close-mouthed. That’s one reason why I share what I do. I vowed if I ever had success in any capacity, this is my way of paying it forward.”

Dowdy also gives credit in high places. None of this would be possible without divine intervention, he notes. “I tell people Randy is the author of his crop production success, but God has been the finisher.”

For more information about Dowdy’s farming operation and philosophy, go to www.growbigcorn.com

About the Author(s)

Forrest Laws

Forrest Laws spent 10 years with The Memphis Press-Scimitar before joining Delta Farm Press in 1980. He has written extensively on farm production practices, crop marketing, farm legislation, environmental regulations and alternative energy. He resides in Memphis, Tenn. He served as a missile launch officer in the U.S. Air Force before resuming his career in journalism with The Press-Scimitar.

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