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Wilders of Tennessee Populations, fertility fine-tune operation

Keith Wilder and his father, Tommy, found that less can sometimes mean more when they decided to work with plant populations and fertility to improve their soybean yields in 2007.

Although the Wilders experimented with plant populations ranging up to 300,000 per acre, they found their highest yield occurred closer to their normal seeding rates. “We found 160,000 plants per acre yielded the best, averaging an extra 4 bushels per acre,” said Keith. “That's close to what we normally plant, 175,000 plants.”

The Wilders tried the plant population study at the suggestion of Russ McCallen, their Helena location manager in Atoka, Tenn., and Joe Roberts, their Monsanto representative. The Wilders also worked with Russ on their fertility.

“Last year, Helena precision-mapped some of our fields,” said Keith. “We broke the fields down into zones that were soil-sampled. Based on the sampling results, we were able to increase the amount of fertilizer where it was needed and cut back some in other areas.

“It enabled us to save money because we applied fertilizer only where it was needed as opposed to making a blanket application across the field. It allowed more efficient use of fertilizer. We customized our blend for each zone in the field and applied NPK accordingly. We also applied lime only in areas where it was needed.

“Additionally, we tried a foliar micronutrient application. Even with the droughty season that we had this year, the plants looked healthy.”

Both the plant population study and the fertility work were components of the Helena Acre, a new production concept for growers that uses current products, agronomic research and crop monitoring to develop a total production system designed to maximize return on investment.

“For several years, we have worked with Helena on on-farm test plots,” said Tommy. “This year, we had a weigh wagon at harvest to be more precise about the results of the different practices. Earlier, we used our combine yield monitor to gauge yield differences in practices. It's key to run test plots on your own farm. We know our own ground; we know where our good ground, better ground and best ground are and what to look for.

“Helena provides us with a source of information for products and practices for our crops. They're service-oriented. They'll come to the field and pick up your seed wagon and take it back and refill it for you and deliver it back to the field. Russ watches our fields, and he'll call us if he detects a problem such as insects.”

The Wilders farm bottomland along the Mississippi River near Drummonds, Tenn. “Our soil type runs from a sandy loam to a heavy clay,” says Tommy. “We farm on top of old river beds. If you go down too deep you'll actually get into sand again. At one time, probably in the late 1700s, according to Army Corps of Engineers maps, the biggest part of our ground was actually in the river channel.”

The family operation started in the 1950s when Tommy's father, Howard, began farming. Tommy says, “My father farmed for several years, and he still helps us today. I started farming in 1971 and Keith started in 1999.”

The Wilders use two center pivots but mainly farm dryland. They plant about one-third wheat, one-third corn and one-third full-season beans. They also farm wheat-beans. To take advantage of the current higher wheat prices, they plan to plant 10 percent more wheat this year.

They plant about 10 different soybean varieties to spread risk, stagger maturity and manage diseases. In corn, they start planting with a 110-day maturing variety and finish with a 120-day variety.

“We start planting corn the last week of March. When we finish we start with beans. We harvest corn the last of August or the first of September. Then we start cutting beans.” With their soil type and inputs, they expect their yields in a normal year to run 140 bushels of corn, 40 bushels of beans, and 60-plus bushels of wheat.

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