Ellington Massey and his son, Turner, rely on four things to produce good corn yields and healthy profit margins — precise planting, fertility, irrigation and grain bins. For the Masseys, who grow corn, soybeans, wheat, cotton and sesame near Rudyard, Miss., precision planting begins each fall by making sure they have a consistent planting surface for both seed and implements.
They don’t cut stalks after harvest, except on cotton, preferring to run a disk through the field following the combine. They let fields mellow at least a month, then disk again, bed up, run a Paratill through the middle of the bed, and roll the beds.
The Masseys have moved away from tilling at a 45-degree angle to the row, because it can create inconsistencies in the soil profile, which can impact planting efficiency and seeding rates the following spring.
“Seeding rate is so critical on corn,” Ellington says. “When you subsoil at a 45-degree angle, the planter will set up a cadence crossing the subsoil tracks that impacts emergence. With the Paratill (a low disturbance subsoiler), we’re plowing right under the row in the same direction as the row.”
A correct plant population is so important to the Masseys that they regularly do maintenance on and/or replace chains that drive the planting hoppers. “If the chains get dry, they buckle up, which will impact seeding rate. We chain lube them and replace them every two years,” Ellington says.
“Most of the time, we don’t back the planter up under a shed during planting season,” Turner notes. “If we’re rained out for a few days, those chains can get rusty. I have found that if you don’t oil the chains right after a rain, they will rust up and the links will be stiff.”
The Masseys soil sample every three years to determine potash, lime and phosphate needs for corn. They don’t apply any preplant nitrogen.
“We band about 80 pounds of nitrogen five inches to the side of the row with the planter,” Turner says. “We’re also applying 4 gallons per acre of pop-up fertilizer in the furrow with the seed.”
“We’ve seen a 25-bushel per acre yield increase from the at-planting nitrogen applications,” Ellington says.
The Masseys got all their intended corn acres planted in 2013, Turner says, but spring rains stretched the planting season much longer than they preferred, and they didn’t finish until May 16.
“We had never planted corn that late,” Ellington says, “but it looks like it will be the best corn crop we’ve ever had.”
Each year, Turner consults official variety trial information to help decide which corn hybrids to plant. He tries to match those hybrids to soil and irrigation methods on their farms. “We also have test plots for hybrids on the farm,” Ellington says.
Once they get a stand and corn is 6 inches high, they start getting fertilizer rigs hooked up to apply side-dress fertilizer, and getting their Hi-Boy ready to apply post-emergence herbicide, typically Halex and atrazine. All of their weed control is done postemergence.
Glyphosate-resistant pigweed has been a problem, but mostly on field borders and around wells and light poles in the middle of fields — “wherever there is sunlight hitting the ground, or anywhere where an obstacle prevents the Hi-Boy from getting good coverage,” Turner says.
One weed control benefit for corn is that it’s typically planted during a time of the year when pigweeds are less likely to emerge in large numbers. “But when we have May-planted corn, as we did in 2013, you may have pigweed issues — and we did. But Halex and atrazine wipes them out,” Ellington says.
Though they’ve had earworm infestations, the Masseys, who first started growing corn in 2007, were not too concerned with insects this past season, according to Turner. “From research at Mississippi State University, we know it’s not economical to spray for earworms,” he says.
On refuge corn, corn borers can be a significant problem, and they put out traps in 2013 after they heard the pest was south of the farm and moving north. “Within a 24-hour period, I re-checked the traps and one had 740 moths in it. We immediately got the airplane spraying Besiege.
“We have found over the years that you plant non-Bt corn first — that way, it will get mature before the moth activity really gets heavy,” Ellington says.
The Masseys use center pivots on about 40 percent of their irrigated acres, and furrow irrigation on the rest. “We try to plant every acre we can irrigate to corn,” Turner says. “We do have two or three small fields that are dryland.”
“Dryland corn did better than ever,” Ellington says. “The corners of our pivot fields yielded really high.”
Because their pivots have been ramped up for maximum output, he says, corn yields under the center pivots were as good as those under furrow irrigation.
“So many pivots are designed for supplemental irrigation. Our pivots are designed for 100 percent irrigation capacity. If it never rains, we can keep up with the crop’s needs. We are really particular about our furrow irrigation, too — we’re careful to not over water.”
“It takes a little more horsepower to run the center pivots, but it’s worth it,” Turner says. “We can put out an inch in 36 hours.”
Nozzles on the pivots distribute water across 60-foot swaths, Ellington says. “Our problem with center pivot irrigation in this region is not evaporation — it’s absorption. Our water is relatively cheap and our humidity is high.”
“In arid regions, they want to get the water close to the ground because they have such high evaporation,” Turner says. “Here, you can stand still and sweat.”
Grain bins and marketing
Grain bins are an important part of the Massey’s grain operation, for marketing and to keep their one combine running. “We put a lot of hours on the combine, and we trade every two years,” Ellington says.
They have the capacity to store around 300,000 bushels of corn. With that much storage and drying capacity, they can begin harvesting corn early, at about 25 percent moisture. “We plant Group V soybeans, so by the time we get our corn harvested, we change heads and move right into the soybeans,” Ellington says.
Sometimes grain bins can offer an unexpected advantage. Last year, a local elevator put out a call for grain to load several barges at the river. The Masseys took them up on the offer. By the end of the day, 77 truckloads of corn had left the farm, and the following day, 65 truckloads.
Earlier in 2013, they locked in most of the high price that corn was offering. They use John Beasley, Beasley and Associates, Little Rock, Ark., to market their crops.
Good crops and good prices rarely occur in tandem, but they did this past season for Massey Planting Co.
“We saw more high-yield areas this past season than we’ve ever seen before,” Turner says. “We were seeing a lot of 220-bushel and 250-bushel yields — but once we got into the May-planted corn, yields went back down.”
Turner says weather, lower overall temperatures, and lower nighttime temperatures contributed to the higher early yields in early-planted corn. “Once we got into the May-planted corn, we were into the heat of the season and pollination.”
Next year will be a challenge, the Masseys say, with declining corn prices and uncertainty about input costs.
“We’re hoping fertilizer prices will come down,” Ellington says. “Recently, the price of nitrogen has been following the price of corn. With corn prices down 30 percent from a year ago, and natural gas still cheap, nitrogen prices also need to come down 30 percent.”