One might expect a sage, wise farmer behind a near 300-bushel corn yield. But Gary Shepard says his corn-planting prowess was shaky from the start.

“I’ve never grown corn,” the Corning, Ark., producer says, laughing. “I didn’t know the planter should have been in ‘low range.’”

When planting soybeans, Deere planters are left in “high range.” Shepard, planting corn for the first time, had correctly set the sprockets for the proper plant population. Before heading to the fields, the planter had been calibrated and prepped.

But 30 acres into planting, Shepard called Roger Gipson, puzzled and worried.

“He said, ‘Boy, something is wrong. I’ve planted way too much seed,’” recalls the Pioneer agronomist. “We calculated it and I said, ‘Holy smokes! You just planted 48,000 seed per acre.’”

But if the mistake was to be made, says Gipson, the right hybrid had been planted.

“We call 31D61 the ‘hurricane hybrid’ because when we first looked at it a few years ago, hurricanes swept through. One of the Louisiana guys we work with had dealt with some serious weather. He said, ‘Man, we like this hurricane hybrid. I went to the plots and that hybrid is the only one still standing. The roots and stalk are amazing.’”

Shepard had planted the conventional Bt version of that hybrid. Gipson said extra fertilizer, water and a fungicide should keep the crop healthy.

“And I told him I’d go ahead and send in the entry from for the NCGA (National Corn Growers Association) irrigated class contest.”

Several months later, when walking through the field, “you needed a flashlight,” says Shepard. “It was incredibly thick. A couple of storms blew through and not a stalk fell.”

The nitrogen rate for the field was pushed to around 300 units.

“We actually went with a four-way split. We put out 80 units preplant, side-dressed 100 units, and flew on 46 units around three weeks prior to tassel. Then, we went back with another 46 units about a week before tassel.”

The reason for that last dose: the plant population in the field was around 48,000 on 30-inch rows.

As for the contest, “we knew when harvesting, that it required 1.25 acres be checked,” says Gipson. “A county Extension agent comes out and if the first yield check is 250 to 299 bushels, there must be a second check. The second check is the yield that sticks.”

The men were sure the field’s yield would be over 250 bushels.

“I told Gary, ‘When they come out, just measure out the two cuttings. Put one in the front hopper and one in the back.’ Gary called me later and said, ‘I think those cuttings went over 300 bushels.’ At that point, we knew the NCGA office in St. Louis would have to be called.”

The office then appointed someone to come down for another check.

“We barely saved enough corn for the last check,” says Shepard. “The first check was 308 bushels and the second went 315 bushels.”

Bruce Beck, Extension agent from Butler County, Mo., came down and cut the last bit of the field. It yielded 295 bushels.

“The highest NCGA figure I’d seen in Arkansas was 275 bushels,” says Gipson. “So, Gary — a first-year corn grower — has come up with an amazing yield. That’s significant here in the South.”

Another thing of interest: 10 acres of the field was brought down to a population of 32,000. The yield difference between the populations was “probably 30 bushels.”

After such results, what does Gipson now tell growers about planting populations and seeding rates? “I think as we come up with newer, high-yielding genetics — genetics with better stalks and roots — the final plant population recommendations will probably increase. I’m not saying some outrageous amount of seed should go out. But it’s very possible recommendations will hover around 38,000 to 40,000.

“I mean consider that (southwest Missouri grower) Kip Cullers (see http://deltafarmpress.com/mag/farming_freeze_temporary_setback/index.html) is on a twin-row system, but he’s been getting 330-plus bushel yields with 60,000 plants.”

e-mail: dbennett@farmpress.com