In 2012, Tim Fisher became the first Arkansas grower to produce 300 bushel corn, confirmed by the Corn Growers Association’s National Corn Yield Contest. He duplicated that feat again this year.
“Five years ago, we dreamed of a 200-bushel yield,” says Fisher, who farms near Wynne. “With improved hybrids and management, we averaged 225 bushels per acre on 1,000 acres last year.”
When other growers ask Fisher how to make good corn, he tells them that one of the most important things is: “Manage your soil — all big yields start with managing the soil.”
Soil management for Fisher begins with disking in every stalk — corn, soybeans, rice, wheat, oats, grain sorghum. He stopped burning stubble 10 years ago, resulting in a huge improvement in yields and compaction.
“In the last five years, we’ve seen anywhere from a 15 percent to an 18 percent yield increase,” he says. “We’re putting natural fertilizer back into the ground.
“We’re also building up the humus in the soil, which helps keep the ground from being compacted. We’ll disk once in the fall, and by January or February, 70 percent of the residue will be broken down.”
Cover crops add nitrogen
He also plants cover crops — oats and cowpeas — on some fields to build nitrogen in during the winter so it will be available in the spring. His corn yield contest field didn’t have a cover crop.
In the fall, he applies 1 ton to 3 tons of chicken litter per acre, depending on soil type. In the spring, he applies liquid fertilizer from a John Deere 1720 planter that he modified by adding fertilizer coulters.
“We apply 5 gallons to 6 gallons in-furrow under the seed and 15 gallons two inches to the side of it,” he explains. “When the seed germinates, it’s in a fertilizer bed.”
Tissue analysis during the season provides a guideline for foliar feeding. “Foliar feeding is good, but it’s what’s in the ground that makes your corn,” Fisher says. “If you shoot for 300 bushels, but only have 200-bushel fertilizer in the ground, you can’t foliar feed enough to compensate.
“A 300 bushel-plus corn crop requires 350 to 360 units of nitrogen per acre, depending on soil sampling. We sample on 2.5-acre grids, and apply fertilizer variable rate.”
No wet feet
Irrigation management is another key factor in producing high yield corn, Fisher says. “You have to be able to put water on and take it off quickly. Corn doesn’t like wet feet — it likes moisture, but not mud.”
He precision levels his fields and furrow irrigates with poly tubing, watering every 30-inch row.
“Corn should never hurt for moisture,” he says. “We use hand-held moisture meters, and do a lot of walking and looking. In 2014, we watered corn four times. In 2013, we watered nine or 10 times.
“We water by sight, not time. When a field’s pump is turned on, we know about how long it takes. We walk across the bottom of the field, and when the water comes out, we shut it off.
“The time varies according to the weather and the corn’s stage. If corn is in the tasseling stage, it uses close to 2 inches per week, so we run the pump longer.
Watering corn is cheaper
“We started growing corn 16 years ago because our water cost was too high to grow rice profitably — it ran as high as $400 per acre.
“We shifted our rice production west and used surface water, reducing our water cost to $100 per acre. The water we pump from the ground for corn near Crowley’s Ridge flows down ditches and is relifted to water rice. We can water corn for $100 to $150 per acre.”
Fisher normally plants five or six different hybrids. This past season, he planted five, including Pioneer P2089YHR as his yield contest corn.
“Planting several hybrids spreads maturity and risk,” he says, “and some hybrids perform better on some soil types than others. Our Pioneer representative, Jason Rudick, helps me match the correct hybrid with the type of ground.
“Our Bt hybrids control most worms, but we still watch for earworms on some of our corn. We stay within our refuge requirement, scout a lot, and use pheromone traps for moths so we’ll know when to spray.
“Corn borers and earworms are our biggest problems in non-Bt corn. We control both with Prevathon. We also spray our contest corn with Prevathon to be on the safe side.”
Rotation helps control pests
The soil insect pest complex is controlled by an insecticide seed treatment applied at the 1,250 rate.
Most corn is rotated yearly with soybeans, which helps prevent soil pests from building up. Fisher employs crop consultant Kevin Hanks for his soybeans and rice and scouts corn himself.
For weed control, he uses Halex GT and atrazine when corn is four- to five-leaf. He uses Callisto if he has a late weed problem, such as morningglory. In no-till corn, he uses a burndown of Roundup and a dicamba product.
Fisher harvests more than 3,000 acres of grain crops with one combine, a John Deere 5670.
“Sometimes I’ll hire a custom harvester to cut a couple hundred acres if I get into a bind,” he says. “Otherwise, we harvest with one combine, one grain cart and four tractor-trailer rigs.
“We never stop. Two boys service the combine every morning, and if we have any major problems, the John Deere dealership in Wynne comes out and fixes it.”
No waiting in line
“I have my own storage facilities, so my grain trucks don’t wait in line at an elevator,” Fisher says. “This enables the combine to run all day.
“Our four sets of grain bins have a total capacity of 400,000 bushels. By the time soybeans are ready to cut, we’ve already shipped out some corn so we’ll have room for beans in the bins.
“Our storage facilities enable us to start harvesting earlier on all our grains because we have the ability to dry. The bins also help us with marketing, allowing us to hold corn into the following year. We sell corn to many Arkansas poultry operations, which need corn in January, February and March.”
Fisher’s wife, Becky, is a big part of his marketing program. “She runs our irrigation store, and she watches the markets,” he says.
“Becky and I built this farm, starting with 30 acres in 1981, and we’re farming more than 3,000 acres now. My father, Guy, helped us get started, and he’s part of the farm today.
Grain sorghum championship
“Our son, Adam, is an integral part of our grain operation. Our grain sorghum contest plot is his farm, and if everything holds true, this will be the third consecutive year that he has won the state championship, and the third consecutive year that he has broken his own record. He harvested 164 bushels per acre in 2012, 168 bushels in 2013, and 188 bushels this year.
“Our whole grain operation benefits from many talented people. We benefit from the expertise of companies, including Helena Chemical, John Deere, Pioneer and Concept Ag.”
So what’s on tap for Tim Fisher in 2015? He plans to rotate his record-yielding corn field to soybeans — and push for a 100 bushel-plus yield.