Virginia grower David Hula made big news with his 429 bushel per acre corn yield in 2011 and Missouri grower Kip Cullers made similar headlines by producing 161 bushels of soybeans.
Putting the two high profile grain growers together in the same room at the recent Commodity Classic held in Orlando, Fla., proved to be a real challenge — finding a room big enough to hold all the growers wanting to hear what Cullers and Hula had to say about growing high yielding crops.
Despite a large ballroom, the crowd quickly grew from standing room only to no standing room.
Cullers, Hula and Indiana grower Bob Little, who is also a past National Corn Grower Association yield winner, each gave brief over-views of their farming operation. Then, they opened the floor to questions from the over-flow crowd.
The first question was one Hula and Cullers get often in public appearances.
Are you guys in the farming business or the yield award winning business?
Hula said he spends the vast majority of his time growing and selling crops and very little time growing competition crops.
“I think most people would be surprised how little difference there is between how we grow all our crops versus how we grow our competition crops,” he said.
“Land rent costs are different from state to state, even farm to farm, but those costs aside on our irrigated corn, we spend around $600 per acre. The few extra things we do to our competition corn won’t push costs much higher than that, Hula added.
A little more blunt
Cullers was little more blunt. “I get that question about being a professional farmer a lot. My usual response is, “If you can grow 160 bushels of soybeans per acre, you can’t buy enough inputs to make it unprofitable.”
Like Hula, Cullers said he doesn’t do much different with competition crops than he does with any of his crops.
“We use what we consider to be our most productive land and we tweak the timing of some of the things we do with timing and rates, but there is no big input cost for our competition crop that is different from any of our crops, Cullers said.
An Illinois farmer asked, Do you put cover crops on any or all of your fields?
Hula said, “We’re in the seed business, so any field in which we plan to plant small grains, we can’t afford to use a cover crop. We do plant a lot of winter crops, so we do have something on most of our land most of the year,” he added.
The Virginia grower did mention a three-year test he had using tillage radishes on a 300 acre field on his farm. The first two years, he said, didn’t do much in terms of growing radishes. The third year he had a spectacular crop of radishes, along with an unusually warm winter and spring.
“By April, those 300 acres of radishes smelled pretty bad, and the land owner convinced us we didn’t need to grow tillage radishes, Hula said.
Little, who is a certified crop advisor and grain farmer in Indiana said he uses cover crops in special situations.
“I don’t see the crop benefit or the economics of planting a cover just to have a cover crop there,” the Indiana grower said.
All three growers agreed cover crops can be a good thing, if there is a specific need, but just adding a cover crop without a specific reason isn’t something they do.
A farmer from northwest Iowa asked, What are the advantages and disadvantages of no-till farming?
“We started conservation-tillage in the 1970s, but there just wasn’t adequate equipment to do the job right. Then, you guys in the Midwest got into no-till big time, and we thank you for generating enough interest among the equipment folks to build no-till equipment we can use in Virginia,” Hula said.
He added that the first three years they were in no-till, they built crop residue rapidly and really improved the quality of their soil.
“Now, our crop residue goes away so quickly, we have a hard time building it up. If we harvest corn before Sept. 10, we let the stalks decay normally. If we harvest much earlier or later than that, we add something to it to make break down quicker, Hula said.
The Virginia grower said the proximity of his farm to the Chesapeake Bay, and all the national attention that situation draws, almost mandates they be no-till farmers.
The combined agronomical advantages of no-till and the environmental acceptance of the practice among environmentalists make it a common practice in our part of the country, Hula said.
Seed treatment question
A Canadian grower asked, What do you see as the advantages and disadvantages of adding extra biologicals to seed treatments?
“I’m a firm believer in some of the new biological seed treatments on the market today,” Cullers said.
“For example, we routinely use BioForge, a product that up-regulates specific genes associated with root development and ethylene reduction,” Culler said.
“We know we are going to get a 3-4 bushel per acre yield bump and the cost of the material to add to our seed is minimal,” the Missouri grower added.
“We have a commercial seed treatment facility on our farm, and we treat all our seed with standard seed treatments, plus whatever biological materials we feel will help us produce higher yields and improve quality of our crops,” Hula said.
“Sometimes it looks like we are producing a golf ball-size seed, but in the long-run, we feel like adding additional fungicides and insecticides and biological treatments to our seed is a benefit,” the Virginia grower added.
A North Carolina grain grower asked, What is one thing you can tell us that has helped you be a better farmer and that has helped you win national yield contests?
“Promote agriculture, every day, everywhere to everybody,” Cullers said. “We as farmers have to understand that Brazilian grain growers, nor any farmer anywhere, are not our enemy.
“Our real enemy is the people in influential places who don’t understand how we farm, why we farm, nor care about the challenges we face every day, as we try to feed the world, he added.
Cullers related a story about being interviewed for a story in Time Magazine.
“The writer was a political reporter, who had covered Bush and Clinton and was a frequent flyer on Air Force One. I answered every question she had, calling on all the media training I had undergone from the best trainers in the world. The story turned out fine, but it was about me, not about farming.
“The most disappointing part of being in Time Magazine, was that the vast majority of people who read and provided feedback, were critical of farming,” Cullers said.
“The one thing I think we have to do to be better farmers is to do the best job we can of explaining to mainstream America what we do and why we do it,” he added.
“There are two things, which are related, that I would suggest,” Hula said.
“First, attend meetings, like this one, and learn all you can learn about growing crops and add to that base of information by talking to everyone you can find, who you believe does a good job growing crops.
“Second, never drive by a corn field at 55 mph, with the windows up, the air conditioning on, and say, ‘Yea, that corn looks good.’ You need to be in your field and you need to know what your plants needs, and you need to use the information you have to help every plant in every field get what it needs and when it needs it to reach its maximum yield potential,” Hula added.
All three growers agreed weather is the trump card, but as long as the farmer does all he or she can do to provide the crop with what it needs in a timely manner, yield usually takes care of itself.
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