It is a strategy both David Hula and Randy Dowdy use: placing colored flags next to their just emerged corn seed to see how uniformly their crop is emerging.
Hula of Charles City, Va., the 2013 and 2015 National Corn Growers Association National Corn Yield Contest winner, got the idea from Dowdy, the 2014 National Corn Yield Winner. Hula says he has emphasized uniform emergence to maximize corn yields for eight years now, but last year was the first time he used the flag study to see how he was doing.
(Editor’s note: Southeast Farm Press visited David Hula’s Charles City, Va., farm in March. This is part one of a three-part series with the corn yield champion based on that visit.)
The method both Dowdy and Hula use in their flag study was to put a colored flag besides every emerged plant in a 20 foot row of their crop. They returned in 12 hours and put a different colored flag by any newly emerged plant. They repeated the process every 12 hours and put a different colored flag until all the plants in the row section have emerged.
Hula explains that the flag study helps him make sure all his corn is emerging uniformly, which is the first step to achieving banner yields. “After we planted our corn in the test plot, we placed a red flag next to the first spiclet that came out of the ground, which was usually 10 days after planting. We went back the second day and if we saw later emergence, we put placed a different colored flag. We did that until all the corn came up,” Hula explains.
“We liked to look at it throughout the season because we saw a lot of different height plants and more striking are the differences in the ear sizes, uniformity is key. Some of them were a lot more spindly than we would like. Once you see it, that gets into your mindset. I can’t afford that. You’re spending the same amount of money per kernel, so let’s get them all up at the same time,” he says.
To ensure uniform emergence, Hula uses a pneumatic John Deere planter equipped with Delta Force technology that provides hydraulic down pressure to ensure the seed is planted uniformly at a uniform depth of two inches.
“The result was beautiful. When you can make sure your whole crop is growing in unison, there is no plant-to-plant competition. All of your ears will be the same height and all of your leaves are the same height and you will make better yields,” Hula says.