2022 Corn Yield Contest Winners Named

394 BPA Yield Lands Top Honors for Virginia Corn Farmer in 2022 NCGA Corn Yield Contest

Pamela Smith
By  Pamela Smith , Crops Technology Editor
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The goal for Heath Cutrell is to keep moving the corn yield needle every year. The Chesapeake, Virginia, farmer did that in 2022 and brought in the winning NCGA Corn Yield Contest entry of 394 bushels per acre. (DTN/Progressive Farmer photo by Marcus Holman)

DECATUR, Ill. (DTN) -- Heath Cutrell has a confession to make. He can't keep his eyes off the yield monitor while combining corn. This year, a 394.0485-bushel-per-acre (bpa) figure crossed his screen, and it gathered top honors for the Virginia farmer in the 2022 National Corn Yield Contest.

Cutrell started entering NCGA contests in 2015 and has produced category wins in the past. But the 2022 yield is the highest the Chesapeake, Virginia, farmer has recorded, so far. "I go into each year trying new things and hoping to get a little bit better each time," he told DTN.

Sponsored annually by the National Corn Growers Association for the past 58 years, the contest produced 27 national winners in nine production classes this year. Those national winning entries averaged 340.7245 bpa. Overall, the contest generated a total of 6,337 entries from 46 states, representing 50 seed companies and 838 different hybrids for an average yield of 262.7586 bpa, well ahead of the latest projected U.S. yield average of 172.3 bpa.

"Corn plays an incredibly important role in so many aspects of life in America and abroad," Lowell Neitzel, chair of NCGA's Member and Consumer Engagement Action Team, said in a news release. "This contest offers a unique opportunity for all farmers to take part in the innovation and creativity that move our industry forward. Contest winners, at the national and state levels, find new ways to excel while using a variety of techniques. Ultimately, the data generated and insights found by farmers and input providers enable U.S. farmers to continue to meet the future demand for critical food, feed, fuel and fiber."

Drew Haines of Middletown, Maryland, had the second-highest yield of the contest, with a no-till, non-irrigated field that hit 384.8359 bpa. The highest irrigated yield came from Miles Peterson of Bertrand, Nebraska, who pushed a strip-till irrigated field to 357.9817 bpa.


While the world-record yield of 616.2 bpa -- set in the 2019 NCGA contest by David Hula, also from Virginia -- wasn't challenged this year, the production level that was reached is testimony to how corn can perform, despite the challenging weather year faced by many, noted Cutrell. His award-winning yield was recorded in the non-irrigated/conventional tillage class. He placed first in the same category in 2021 with a 391.3092 bpa average.

"The thing that was remarkable about this field was that it got as close to a perfect start as you can imagine. It seemed like every kernel emerged. It couldn't have been any prettier," Cutrell observed. The winning entry came with Dekalb 66-18, a 116-day VT Double PRO hybrid, planted April 10 at 38,000 plants per acre (ppa) in 30-inch rows.

Cutrell's farming operation is spread across 40 miles of southeastern Virginia coastline and crosses into North Carolina. "The other surprising thing may be that this yield happened at all given the drought experienced in much of our area," he added.

"We had a period of dry where I was really starting to wonder what harvest would look like," he recalled. "All of our fields to the north of our farm in Virginia seemed to get enough little rains. I'm not going to say they couldn't have used more, but they had enough to carry them. Yields on everything to the south, though, were just mediocre."

Cutrell's crop never gets hungry. His planter is set up with two-by-two and in-furrow placement. He comes back with dry fertilizer incorporated with tandem cultivators and top dresses with a dry rig again at the V-5 growth stage. At least three fungicides and micronutrient applications go out in-season.

"It is not lacking for anything, I can promise you," he said. The Virginian said he leans heavily on Fenton Eure, an agronomic adviser with Nutrien to help determine the nutritional recipes. The two are constantly trying new things -- such as biological products that help make fertilizer more readily available to the plant and/or stabilize fertilizer against leaching. ESN, polymer-coated nitrogen, is a favorite fertility tool because it is designed to release nitrogen as the plant grows.

"The key to all this is making sure the crop is never needy," said Eure. One of the challenges in the region is the topsoil can be thin. "The CEC's (cation exchange capacity) aren't as good as in parts of the Midwest," he said. "So, we have to feed our crop multiple times to get it to react the way we need it to react."

Cutrell said soil types can range anywhere from deep, dark soils to beach sand. "And sometimes, it is all in the same field," he said. "Although we do have a little sugar pot of a section right where we live that is good, deep, rich soil."

Many of Cutrell's fields are located within 5 miles of the Atlantic Ocean. "Hurricanes are our biggest challenge," he said. "If they aren't causing problems, they are worrying you to death that they will cause problems." For that reason, choosing corn that is shorter in stature to better withstand wind is an important component of Cutrell's hybrid selection process. Humidity is also a constant, which corn tends to like, but so do leaf diseases.

Cutrell doesn't go into the season with a specific plot designated for the contest. Instead, he scouts, walks and monitors fields with an eye toward those doing well. "We're in fields doing something every week. I get to know them," he said.

A field showing promise gets more groceries with the help of diagnostic testing. Like many contest winners, Cutrell is reluctant to give up all the secrets to the sauce. "Mostly, we throw the kitchen sink at what we think has most potential. We can't afford to do that on all our acres, but we're testing and pushing limits to see what the field can do," he said.

Contest rules require harvesting a minimum of 10 continuous acres of one hybrid number. Harvesting of the entries is supervised and yields verified. Find all the details and rules of the contest listed here: https://dt176nijwh14e.cloudfront.net/….


The contest also teases out some interesting trends and statistics. This year non-irrigated entries bested many of those supplied with irrigation, for example.

The average harvest population of the entrants was 33,853 ppa. The national winners averaged 37,164 ppa. All participants averaged 210.59 pounds of nitrogen use per acre, but the winners used slightly less at 203.444 pounds. Nitrogen utilization was nearly equal at 0.88 bushel per pound for all participants and 0.89 bushel per pound for the national winners.

A smidgen more than half of the entrants used cover crops in their farming operations, and 80% are actively reducing tillage operations. At least 73% of those entering used an integrated pest management (IPM) plan, and 44% identified as being an integrated livestock/crop farm that utilizes manure.

Watching a big yield go through the combine is impressive, Cutrell acknowledged. "The upright auger is always full," he said. "And I confess that sometimes, I'll videotape that big yield going across the monitor. If I need a smile during the hardship of a day, I just watch that."

For a recent article outlining more of Cutrell's high yield growing tips go to: https://www.dtnpf.com/….

2022 First Place NCGA Yield Contest Winners

Conventional Non-Irrigated

Heath Cutrell, Chesapeake, Virginia -- 394.0485 bpa

Conventional Non-Irrigated (Corn Belt)

Cory Atley, Cedarville, Ohio -- 366.3266 bpa

No-till Non-Irrigated

Drew Haines, Middletown, Maryland -- 384.8359 bpa

No-till Non-Irrigated (Corn Belt)

Nikia Kalb, Dubois, Indiana -- 355.7383 bpa

Strip, Minimum, Mulch, Ridge-till Non-Irrigated

Andrea Rigdon, Jarrettsville, Maryland -- 324.9897 bpa

Strip, Minimum, Mulch, Ridge-till Non-Irrigated (Corn Belt)

Kevin Kalb, Dubois, Indiana -- 360.1445 bpa

No-till Irrigated

John Panowicz, Cairo, Nebraska -- 325.5151 bpa

Strip, Minimum, Mulch, Ridge-till Irrigated

Miles Peterson, Bertrand, Nebraska -- 357.9817 bpa

Conventional Irrigated

Dalton Peterson, Bertrand, Nebraska -- 336.7485 bpa

For a complete listing of all the 2022 national winners go to NCGA's website: https://dt176nijwh14e.cloudfront.net/….

For a listing of state winners go to: https://dt176nijwh14e.cloudfront.net/….

For a listing of all entrants go to: https://dt176nijwh14e.cloudfront.net/….

Pamela Smith can be reached at pamela.smith@dtn.com

Follow her on Twitter @PamSmithDTN

Pamela Smith

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