NEWELLTON, La. -- New genetics and Bt technology are helping farmer Jay Hardwick achieve Midwest-like yields in corn production.
During most of the 1990s and early 2000s, Hardwick gave most of his attention and acreage to cotton, and it's been rewarding. But recently, he has began to realize that corn can be a good earner, sometimes better than cotton.
Hardwick has continued to increase his corn acreage since he began growing it in 1987 and produced over 2,000 acres of corn this year. Meanwhile, he reduced cotton acreage on Somerset Plantation, which is owned by his wife's family, from 8,000 acres to 3,000 acres.
This season turned out to be a good one for corn production on the farm. According to his yield monitors, Hardwick harvested 200-plus bushels on a number of fields and 230 bushels on one.
Hardwick cites Bt technology for much of the yield increase and wasn't shy about his requirements for corn seed. "When it comes to corn hybrids, I don't want a thoroughbred, I want a kick-ass mule."
Hardwick planted YieldGard Corn Borer on a large number of acres this year after the technology outyielded non-Bt corn by an average of 17 bushels an acre in on-farm trials last year. "The yield difference wasn't as stellar this year, but still ranged between 10 to 15 bushels more."
By field, yield increases from YG corn ranged from 5 to 40 more bushels than non-Bt corn, according to Hardwick. "I think we've been ignorant about the amount of damage done by the corn borer. When you plant continuous corn, you get corn borer damage plus grass problems.
"Crop rotation was our only defense against corn borer before we got the YieldGard corn," Hardwick added. "I think the corn borer can cost you up to a 30 percent yield reduction, and this pest causes a lot of downed corn."
Hardwick suggests that farmers devote 5 acres to making a comparison between YG corn and a conventional corn hybrid. "Take yield measurements from those 5 acres, and you can make an informed decision."
Pioneer is still the most popular hybrid in the region, noted Hardwick. "But I wanted to investigate other genetic materials versus Pioneer's known hybrids. DeKalb has made some great strides, and their lines have done exceedingly well in my test plots."
Two varieties performed very well for Hardwick this growing season. The 230-bushel field was planted to DeKalb DKC69-70 (YGCB). The variety was also the top overall performer on the farm.
Another DeKalb hybrid, DKC69-71 (RR2/YGCB), a Roundup Ready/YieldGard stacked variety, averaged 140 to 150 bushels per acre "on my worse ground. Our dryland corn yields this year were as good as our irrigated acres."
No-till is another key to pushing yield on Hardwick's ground, which is 85 percent Sharkey clay complex, and 15 percent silt loam. "Because of no-till and the crop residue, we have a balanced mix of insects and beneficials."
Hardwick doesn't use fungicides on any crops, but plants when temperatures are ideal — which nearly always results in excellent stands. He works corn and milo into a rotation with cotton to keep pythium- and rhizoctonia-caused diseases under control. "Growing corn also boosts cotton yields and can reduce populations of reniform nematodes by 50 percent."
Hardwick notes that the corn supply pipeline from the Midwest states is usually dry when he's harvesting corn in August, and prices normally go up under that scenario. "We have a surplus of time in August that can be spent harvesting corn and getting corn ground ready for cotton. We do our soil testing and any necessary land preparation then."
He added that WTO issues and China's appetite for corn are sure to create more volatility in the marketplace, which is a positive for the U.S. farmer. "You have to have volatility in the market to capitalize on opportunities."
Hardwick will also try more twin-row planting in 2004, after a successful attempt at the practice in 2003. "We plant twin rows on the same bed, about 3 inches to either side of the bed. A twin row strip of DKC69-70 (YGCB) yielded 231 bushels on 3.6 acres this year. The remainder of the field (77.7 acres), yielded 199.3 bushels. I'm also trying this twin row approach with soybeans.
"I think there have been great strides in corn genetics and technology," Hardwick added. "We've exhausted our soil with continuous cotton crops. Corn puts back organic matter and increases water-holding capacity. Both cotton and corn yields benefit when one follows the other. The value of corn is not just on the bushel level."
Hardwick also credits good technical support from his suppliers for his increased yields and the decision to look at DeKalb hybrids. "I am the limiting factor on this farming operation," he said. "I need to adapt to technology, marketing and all the risk in the marketplace. And I need to be more attentive to seed genetics."