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Triple G Farms pushes crops for higher yields, efficiency

Ample rainfall, a fertility program designed to maximize yield and good hybrids could make for a pleasant ride on the combine this season for Triple G Farms in Arlington, Ky. As of late July, their corn crop was shaping up to potentially be one of their best ever.

Triple G Farms is a three-way partnership between Bobby Grogan and his sons, Darren and Brian. They farm 11,000 acres of corn and soybeans, divided roughly in half and rotated each year.

This is the first year in a long time that the farm has not planted wheat. “We took a look at our input costs at the time and with the yield drag you typically get in double-cropped beans, we couldn't make it work,” said Brian. “But that very well could change.”

Triple G Farms began operating in 1973 with a few hundred acres complementing the family sausage company. During that time the farm grew, and when the sausage company was sold in 1996, the farm started a tremendous expansion.

Current operations encompass 11,000 acres in a three-county area. Field sizes range from 600 acres to 10 acres.

The Grogans are enthusiastic supporters of extensive research being conducted on the farm — it allows them to look at new technologies before they're released and see how they fit on their specific soil type and environmental conditions.

New technologies on the farm include Optimum GAT herbicide tolerance in corn, plant population studies, drought-tolerant lines, compaction studies and dozens of new corn hybrids. “It's a wonderful tool for us,” Brian said.

Brian's brother, Darren, takes the lead on researching and implementing management techniques he feels will improve the operation.

The farm plants all Pioneer corn hybrids and soybean varieties. Corn hybrids are all Roundup Ready — 80 percent contain Bt protection through the Herculex trait, while 20 percent are non-Bt hybrids.

The farm is only about 20 percent irrigated, all by center pivot, including four new systems installed in 2009. The wet season hasn't necessitated much use so far, according to Brian. “They might have made one complete circle.”

As was the case in other parts of the Mid-South, rains delayed planting on the farm this season. “We were planting corn all the way into the first part of June,” Brian said. “That was kind of scary, because for the last two years, the last rain we received on the farm came the second week of July.”

But if Mother Nature has done anything this season, it's validated its reputation as an unpredictable benefactor, and for this, the Grogans have been thankful. “So far this year, we've hardly gone a week without a rain,” Brian said. “The rains have been phenomenal. We are actually on track with our growing degree units with most of past years, even though we have not had a lot of hot weather. But we will harvest a couple of weeks later than normal.”

The Grogans soil sample every other year by soil type, using updated geo-referenced imagery available through USDA. The maps are also useful in making variable-rate applications of lime, potash, phosphate and nitrogen. “We fertilize according to recommendations and don't hold back. We give the plant what it needs,” Brian said.

The farm has plenty of planting power each spring. This season, they ran three John Deere planters — two 24-row corn planters and a 16-row planter used for corn and soybeans. “Ten years ago, we wouldn't have thought that a 60-foot planter would work on this farm,” Brian said.

“But it's become a reality with equipment improvements and RTK auto-steer systems, and our planting productivity has gone up considerably. We've gone from planting 100 acres a day to 400 acres a day on one planter, and we don't have the wide skips and the overlaps. That doesn't wear out our labor either. We can work decent hours and still get the job done.”

The farm employs two portable RTK base stations, one used for the farm's anhydrous rigs and the other for planters. The Grogans have three full-time hands, and recently added a fourth. Three or four additional hands will be picked up to drive trucks and help out around the harvest operation.

The farm is mostly no-till, but does some tillage in wetter areas that tend to get rutted up. But the farm has recently installed an extensive tiling program on the farm to improve drainage, which could help them keep the farm at 100 percent no-till.

Resistant horseweed has cropped up on the farm, according to Brian, and this season, a recently scouted field is suspected of having resistant Palmer pigweed. The Grogans are able to keep the resistant horseweed under control through their rotation program. “The atrazine and Callisto herbicides that we use on corn will take care of them.”

So far this season, insect pressure has been fairly light for the Grogans.

The Grogans harvest corn with three John Deere 9760s with 12-row headers.

Corn yields average 163-165 bushels per acre on the high side and 156-157 bushels on the low side. “This year we think we may beat the high side. We believe we have the best crop we've had.”

The farm has enough grain bins on hand to store about 80 cent of their corn and soybean crops. “We'll store our soybeans until after the first of the year, sell some corn early and hold the rest until after the first of the year,” Brian said.

Yields have been on a steady climb on the farm, mainly due to the adoption of Bt corn and improved drought tolerance and standability in corn hybrids, according to Brian. “And with Roundup Ready corn, we don't have the weed pressure that we used to have. All of those traits in the plant allow the farmer to focus on maximizing production potential.”

The Grogans believe the future is bright for corn and soybean production, especially with several companies announcing plans to dramatically advance yields. “They're definitely moving in that direction. When you add it all together, we can take on more acres with the same help and still do a very efficient job while keeping our yield and quality up.”

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