Ken Simpson of Morristown, Ind., wasn't thinking about record yields when he struggled to get his crop planted this spring. Rain delays forced back planting. His soils are on the wet side, even with some tile drainage in place. This was a year that proved tile pays. That lesson was repeated a thousand times over across the Corn Belt.
Simpson worked with local and state Extension leaders to put out various replicated strip trials on his farm. He looked at varying nitrogen rates and also a study that looked at whether fungicide applications paid in 2014 or not.
In early June, Scott Gabbard, the Shelby County, Indiana, Extension agent, visited his farm to check out the strip trials. The fields were wet and the corn was in that awkward stage where it looks like the field won't amount to much, even in good years.
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Simpson had planned properly, and was following the plan. But the weather wasn't cooperating. It looked like an average year at best.
Then it was as if the heavens opened. Instead of more rain, they brought sunshine, warm but hardly ever hot temperatures, and just the right amount of rain, at least until late in the season. Those struggling corn plants pulled themselves out of it. Simpson had supplied enough nutrition and selected good genetics. He just needed the right weather combination.
He got it with near record below normal temperatures in July. That allowed for an exceptionally good pollination and early grain fill period over most of the land he farms.
The results were yields of 220 bushels per acre or more on his best plots when he harvested the corn. Obviously plots where he applied low rates of nitrogen didn't yield as well.
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"It's important to have those in there so that you can set the low and high limits of how much nitrogen you need," Simpson says. He's willing to sacrifice a few bushels per acre on a few strips to help learn more about what rate he ought to be applying, and how he ought to be applying it.
If there is one single lesson to take from 2014, it's that put your plan in place, no matter what you think the weather will do. Even if the year doesn't start out well, there's still a chance for high yields if conditions change.