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Good yields on 22-inch rows reason to expand corn acreage

It started out as a demonstration plot in 2005, a few acres of corn planted in a twin-row, 30-inch pattern using a borrowed Great Plains planter. But when the plot on Dulaney Farms, just south of Clarksdale, Miss., yielded 280 bushels per acre, “that opened our eyes,” said Wayne Dulaney, who farms with his father, Edwin, uncle, Terry and brother, J.D.

After the good results, the Dulaneys started making plans to gear up for more corn acres in 2006. They liked the idea of twin-row production, but were a little hesitant about purchasing new twin-row planters.

The row pattern dilemma was solved during the off-season when Edwin located a 22-inch Case corn head. “We decided to go with sixteen 22-inch rows. That fit a 30-foot pattern, and our 90-foot spray boom would work well,” Wayne said.

They set up a tractor to run with triple tires, “which gave us more flotation. Basically, we took the corn head and worked everything backward into it. The 22-inch rows have worked super this year. We used the Case 1200 series air planter and had unbelievably accurate seed placement.”

Dulaney Farms was founded in 1913 with cotton as the main crop until 1968. Since then the farming operation has found success in a soybean, rice and wheat rotation on 3,400 acres. The farm completed its land forming plans in 1996. Ninety-nine percent of the acres are irrigated with much of the land precision leveled on a tenth row slope and no side slope.

A sister business, Dulaney Seed, was founded in 1991 as a marketing arm of Dulaney Farms. Custom contracting and production of public rice and soybean varieties was the main business plan until 2004, when Dulaney Seed introduced AgVenture corn and soybeans.

Their new crop plan is for corn to follow soybeans. “We have in the past years had a two-year soybean/one-year rice rotation. We want to substitute one of those soybean years with corn. All soybeans and corn are furrow irrigated, so corn is an easy fit when it comes to irrigation planning.

The 22-inch corn was planted on a 44-inch bed, put up with a bedder roller. “It's not a big tall cotton bed,” Wayne said. “It's just a bed with some furrows for irrigating.”

The Dulaneys planted AV 9435 R2CB, a 118-day hybrid, AV 7801 R2, a 110-day hybrid and AV 9145R2, a 116-day hybrid, around the middle of March. “We're looking for good plant health, good shuck coverage, and grain quality as a hedge against aflatoxin. Having those qualities are not cure-alls, but they help.”

Their fertility program includes a starter fertilizer, 6-24-6, and a sidedress application of N-Sol-First. The formulation the Dulaneys use for a starter fertilizer “allows the corn plant to take it up as soon as the first radical root is out.

“We noticed last year that with the starter fertilizer, the corn just stayed green. We never saw it yellow up. It made a huge difference in the final yield.”

Having all their acreage in Roundup Ready hybrids has been a good hedge against glyphosate drift, according to Wayne. “There are many rice farmers watching this year, who are thinking if we can make corn on this gumbo, they can do it next year. A lot of farmers are concerned about the possibility of glyphosate drift on rice.

Weed control was exceptional this year, Wayne says. “All we have is a quart of Roundup and two quarts of atrazine applied with a tractor and boom when corn was about 8 inches tall.”

The Dulaneys were not overly concerned with higher nitrogen costs headed into the season. “Yes, the cost is more, but our goal was to maximize our profits and produce an outstanding crop,” Wayne said. “We know the way to overcome low price and higher input cost is maximizing the yields.”

The Dulaneys made a single application of the fungicide Headline, “which really seems to help. You have to keep the plant healthy for better dry-down and to minimize any lodging problems.

“In a corn plant, the cob has to dry out through the plant. The grain dries out through the husk. If the plant dies prematurely, the cob can become rubbery and you have problems at harvest.”

Non-Bt corn, comprising 50 percent of the Dulaneys' corn acreage, was sprayed with Intrepid for corn borer. “When we got to tasseling, we blanket-sprayed it. Last year, we did that in a test plot, and we could not find a corn borer out there. In another plot where we didn't spray, the infestation was much greater.”

The Dulaneys had to water the corn crop seven times this season. “Surface water is used as much as possible from lakes, rivers or tailwater recovery systems. Many of the tailwater recovery systems have been cost-share projects with NRCS. We utilize a network of underground PVC pipe to transport water from groundwater wells.”

On a recent day this fall, the yield monitor on J.D. Dulaney's Case combine is bouncing around 229 bushels as he harvests the farm's 118-day corn hybrid at just under 18 percent moisture. “I've been shocked at some of the yields we had last year and some of the yields we've seen this year already. Two hundred bushel yields are needed to overcome some high fuel costs.”

J.D. notes that holding the combine on 22-inch rows is not easy, but this fall's work plan will likely include installing a guidance system for the combine.

The crop has been easy to produce, he says, although “with 22-inch rows, the corn will lap the middles quickly, so you can miss important field work opportunities if you are not prepared.”

The Dulaneys have enough storage capacity to hold all their beans and rice, plus another 1,000 acres of contract soybean production. “This year, we hope to be maxed out. It's going to be tight,” Wayne said.

A key component in corn production for the Dulaneys is grain storage. “It helps to have the bin storage, so you can hold it and sell it in January or February to end users. You can build a storage system will all the bells and whistles for about $3 a bushel. It doesn't take long making an extra 40 to 50 cents per bushel a year to pay for the storage.

“A 12 percent to 15 percent return on investment is very reasonable. You just have to make a commitment that corn is going to be part of your rotation.”

The Dulaneys total costs for producing the corn crop in 2006 was $429.85 per acre. They figure a 210-bushel yield will breakeven at around $2.05. If they sell their corn at $2.95, they would recognize a profit of $189.65 per acre.

The farm locked in prices for corn this season at over $2.55 a bushel. Average yields for this season came in around 214 to 221, depending on the fields.

Although this is only their second year of producing corn, the Dulaneys have already learned an important lesson, Wayne notes. “Corn is not like cotton or soybeans which compensate for a lost plant here and there. With corn, you have to get it right from the beginning. Plant high-quality seed and plant it very precisely.”

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