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Young farmer's profit plan

Eric Maupin likes what he sees in variable rate application technology. He expects to add it to his corn, soybean and wheat rotation. But not just yet, not until he knows it will pencil out.

The 35-year-old Newbern, Tenn., grower pushes for high yields, but is still choosy about the machinery and gadgets he invests in to get the most out of his 2,000-acre farm.

“I’m a young farmer, and whatever I buy has to pay for itself,” says Maupin, a fourth generation grower on land first tilled by his great-grandfather in the 1930s. “I have to show my landlords what I’m doing, and how I can make a crop pay on the land. I maintain a record that shows every field, and everything that was done on that field.”

His strong yields on all crops are proof that he’s doing a lot of things right on the rolling hills region of northwest Tennessee. His corn averages 145 to 165 bushels per acre, and some fields blew through 200 bushels in 2009. Soybeans average 45 to 50 bushels per acre on full-season production and 30 to 35 bushels on beans double-cropped with wheat. About 60 bushels can be expected from his winter wheat crop.

The erratic weather patterns of the region — periods of dry weather in mid-summer and later — have helped him lean more toward soybeans over corn. “It’s more of a gamble with corn,” he says. “We can be more consistent with soybeans. Corn is a more expensive crop to put in. Soybeans seem to be more forgiving.

“My acreage will vary, but I consider soybeans my main crop,” says Maupin. “We grow 1,300 to 1,500 acres of full-season soybeans and several hundred more double-crop beans.

“We have about 200 acres of wheat this year and are planting 500 acres of corn. Our corn and beans have all been Roundup Ready. But we could see some more conventional varieties in the rotation.”

The ever-growing problem of weed resistance is why more conventional beans could be a potential in Maupin’s rotational mix. More and more glyphosate-resistant weeds are popping up, forcing Maupin and others to use different modes of action in keeping weeds to a minimum.

“We have big-time weed resistance,” Maupin says. “It’s the No. 1 factor in our corn and soybean production. Palmer Amaranth pigweed, giant ragweed, marestail and johnsongrass are showing strong resistance to glyphosate. It’s been an ongoing battle. We’re having the change up our chemical (herbicide) program. Farmers in this region have at least tripled the number of conventional beans planted in the last three years.”

Maupin’s no-till production system means effective herbicides are a must. “If you don’t control pigweed when it’s small, it’s going to be there (throughout the growing season),” he says. “Giant ragweed germinates at different times of the year. So you have to be on these weeds all the time.”

In a typical soybean herbicide program for Maupin, he burns down with a mix of dicamba, Roundup and Valor. He comes back postemergence with an application of Prefix.

A few acres are conventional tillage, where some cultivation is used to handle weeds. “But we need a good preplant herbicide, so we go with Treflan on the conventional-till,” says Maupin. “We use the same program with conventional-till corn and beans.”

The no-till corn program also involves a different mode of action. “We go with a tank mix of Roundup, Integrity and dicamba for the burndown. Postemergence varies every year. I look at what weeds escape the burndown, then decide which herbicide to spray along with Roundup. I’ve used Bicep in the past, but will look at other options this year.”

On conventional-till corn, a pre-emergence application of atrazine is applied along with the glyphosate. The post-emergence is the same as with the no-till in many cases.

Maupin is sold on Bt corn for insect control, but he is among other regional growers who don’t see a need for the newest triple-stack corn hybrids. “We don’t have the insect pressure that the newest Bt stacks are intended to control. And we’re glad the seed companies realize this and aren’t charging the extra tech fee on those.”

In his bug control program, Maupin and his consultant scout the fields and spray as needed. “If insect pressure is not above the economic threshold, I don’t spray.”

He worries much more about disease control in soybeans, especially with soybean rust being seen just across the nearby Mississippi River in Arkansas and parts of Mississippi.

“For full-season beans, I normally spray with a fungicide if I see the potential for good yields,” he says. “We see strong yields and feel the fungicide treatments help promote them.”

He says University of Tennessee research demonstrates that soybeans perform well when treated early with a strobilurin fungicide. Maupin uses a ground spray rig to apply a strobilurin early. He receives good protection against soybean disease threats.

“We also use fungicides on wheat. We use fungicides that include both the strobilurin and triazole. With the disease pressure we see here, we need them both.”

While Maupin doesn’t use a lot of variable-rate technology, he does use GPS mapping on his sprayer. Mapping provides a means of collecting and storing geographic information for analysis and decision-making.

For his production success and involvement in the agricultural community, Maupin was named Tennessee Farm Bureau’s Young Farmer of the Year in 2009 and was a national runner-up. He is president of the Tennessee Soybean Association and a Dyer County Chamber of Commerce Agricultural Committee member. He also participates in the 25FarmerNetwork, through the Memphis Bioworks Foundation.

Part of the latter aims at producing alternative crops in the region. “We had some sunflowers in 2009 and have grown some canola,” says Maupin, among those who dedicated small research plots in the program.

“We hope to establish new markets for regional farmers. I’ve grown white corn and high oil corn in the past. It’s important to continue to look for specialty crops that will provide alternative markets for our area’s growers.”

TAGS: Management
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