No-till leads way to top North Carolina corn yields

To Johnny Moore, what's left in his fields after harvest is just as important as what he's taking out.

Moore, his son, Brian, and wife, Karen, had the top corn yields in North Carolina in 2004, harvesting 293.5 bushels per acre. The key, Moore says, is residue management and getting planters in tip-top shape in the off-season. They raise 1,200 acres of corn, 1,200 acres of soybeans, 575 acres of wheat and 300 acres of barley.

They had an overall average of 140 bushels of corn per acre in 2004, planting a wide range of DeKalb, Pioneer and Augusta varieties.

When Moore and his family plant corn the first week of April through the 10th, they'll be planting into wheat and soybean stubble. They harvest the wheat with a Shelbourne-Reynolds stripper-header that leaves the straw standing.

Following wheat harvest, they will plant soybeans. The following year, they plant corn in the rotation.

“In the Piedmont, our soil has improved with no-till,” Johnny says. “The residue goes a long way in a dry year” and hopefully temperatures will stay cool for good pollination. “The more residue we can keep on top of the soil, the better our potential for yields in the Piedmont.”

A diversified crop and dairy farmer in Rowan County, N.C., at Mt. Ulla, Moore varies maturity dates in order to accommodate his schedule. Variety decisions are made according to the potential of each farm, the 25-year-old Brian says. Corn for grain is planted first. “The best corn for grain seems to be planted the first week in April,” he says.

Shooting for a plant population between 27,500 and 30,000 seeds per acre, the Moores maintain a soil pH of 6.0-6.5 for the corn. To do that, they'll apply 1,000 pounds of lime per acre each fall after corn is harvested.

At the end of January, they applied 100 pounds per acre of potash. Just before planting, they'll apply 300 pounds to 400 pounds of 15-15-15 with 8 percent sulfur. They start cranking up the planters the last days of March, if conditions are favorable. “We try not to get on the ground wet,” Johnny says. “That seems to be the key to getting a good stand.”

They spend the winter putting new parts on their two John Deere planters. “The planters have to be in top condition before we go out there,” Johnny says.

The planters have monitors that track the seed populations. “If we're dropping around 30,000 seed per acre, it'll wind up around 28,500,” Johnny says.

At planting, the Moores put out 20 gallons per acre of 11-37-0. On the planter where they use a dry fertilizer, they'll put out 150 pounds per acre of 18-46-0. DeKalb 697 was the variety planted for the 293.5 bushel per acre yield in 2004.

All of the family, including son, Brian, and Scott Lee, a local college student, get in on the act at planting. “We'll plant about 140 acres a day,” Johnny says. Following planting, 40 gallons of nitrogen, along with two quarts of Bicep and a pint to a pint and a half of Gramoxone are applied. “On a good year, it's going to pay you back if your fertilizer levels are up.”

Both 2003 and 2004 were good years for the Moores. Johnny credits their success to the decision to go totally no-till 10 years ago — and rain from the Good Lord.

He and Karen, his wife, were high-school sweethearts. During his high-school years, Johnny worked as a hand on various farms around the community and continued working for various farmers after he and Karen were married. Karen grew up on a dairy farm. “I knew what I was getting into,” she says, with a batch of cookies in the oven.

They got married right out of high school in 1976 and leased their first farm in 1981, milking 50 cows and farming 250 acres. Today, they milk around 100 head of cows three times a day, on top of their row-crop operation. They get help from Bobby Sloop, E.K. Graham and Bob Weast, retired farmers in the area, as well as several high school students.

“Karen milks the cows seven days a week,” Johnny says. “During planting and harvest, she brings a meal to the field, no matter how many people are there.”

“Our faith in God is important and our family is important,” Johnny says. “And Mom's cookies are next,” Brian chimes in.

“Yeah, I got to keep everybody fed,” Karen laughs.

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