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PFR Report

400-Bushel Attempt

Published on Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Two years ago, Sonny Beck challenged our Practical Farm Research (PFR)® team to raise 400-bushel corn. Unlike all the other studies done in PFR, economics and profitability have little influence on this particular study. Instead, the focus here is solely on maximizing yield by utilizing non-traditional management practices in combinations that may be unpractical in today’s economy.

Before we lose you, answer these two questions.

  1. What changes have you made to your operation in recent years?
  2. How many of those changes would have been thought of as impractical 10 years ago?

Odds are, most everyone is farming differently today than they did 10 years ago, and a lot of the improvements and gains in efficiencies that resulted from these changes have contributed to significantly higher yield levels over time. How are we going to farm 10 years from now? Well, if we don’t challenge the status quo and think outside of the box, finding that next change in corn production is unlikely. That was precisely the thought process behind this 400-Bushel Attempt at our Indiana PFR site… first to raise 400-bushel corn, then to identify how to implement our learnings at the farm level to increase profitably.

This is the first growing season that all of the components of the 400-Bushel Attempt are functional. We completed phase one of this project back in the fall of 2016 and then completed it in the fall of 2017. In Atlanta, IN, the greatest challenge we face most springs is heavy, saturated soil conditions as a result of the frequent spring rains. We have identified that early planting will be crucial to obtaining these yield levels, so the first thing we did for this project was to install 4 in. tile on a 15 in. rows. In addition, every four tile runs tie together at a control gate. This allows us the flexibility to turn the drainage system off during key times of the year when we are trying to retain moisture.

Now that we have the ability to get rid of excess water early in the season, the next factor we identified as necessary to obtain yields as high as 400 Bu./A. was the ability to irrigate and fertigate in-season. To accomplish both of these tasks, we chose to work with Netafim and install drip line irrigation 30 in. apart at a depth of 16 in. This allows us to spoon feed nutrients throughout the growing season based on the crops needs that given year.

After finishing the drip line installation, we sat back to admire the system when the topic of canopy temperature and late-season fungicide applications came up. You see, we had planned on utilizing our new multi-row width, multi-hybrid concept planter to plant narrow rows for this 400-Bushel Attempt.

We know that we are going to have to push plant densities higher in order to achieve this high yield level, and you can only cram so many plants into a 30 in. row before plant-to-plant spacing becomes a significant problem. Therefore, we chose to utilize a 10 in. row configuration to push populations as high as 50,000 plants/A. While we feel that increased plant density is necessary, it also poses a few challenges of its own. One of which is higher canopy temperatures, particularly during grain fill. The other is the fact that late-season foliar applications of fungicide are more difficult without drive passes. To address this, we chose to install a linear irrigation pivot, not for irrigation purposes, but solely to cool the canopy during grain fill and to apply fungicide throughout the season.

While this system may not be practical today, portions of it become mainstream 10 or 20 years from now. After all, the definition of insanity is “doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results.” Farming the same way today that we did 10 years ago would only yield similar results as 10 years ago. Instead, we should continue to innovate and challenge the status quo, if for no other reason than to learn what not to do. On top of all that, it’s pretty fun!

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Author: Travis Burnett

Categories: PFR, PFR Reports


Travis Burnett

Travis Burnett

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1 comments on article "PFR Report"

Andreas Hansen

8/5/2018 7:56 AM

im impressed with your forward thinking.

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