Build a Corn Winner

This South Carolina farmer keeps his corn-yield plan simple to nearly triple the state average.

Dan Gause (with son Daniel) gives precision farming the credit for boosting his whole-farm dryland corn averages by 60 bushels to the acre, Image by Fred Salley

Dan Gause was raised on a 50-acre farm in Florence County, South Carolina. He learned to work hard at an early age. “We all had chores to do after school. But, I loved farming. Whenever there was a tractor running, I was on it. If you want to farm, you have to love it,” says the corn and soybean producer from Scranton.

Although it was a tough row to hoe, the Gause family could make a living on a small farm because they raised a high-value crop--flue-cured tobacco. But, by 2011, Gause saw the writing on the wall. He began to transition the farm from tobacco to large-scale corn and soybean production. He went after high yields, as Gause Farms grew to 3,800 acres--1,000 to 1,500 acres is planted to corn each year.

During the past six years, Gause’s dryland corn yields have climbed steadily. In 2016, Dan captured first place in the Class A No-Till/Strip-Till nonirrigated class of the National Corn Growers Association’s (NCGA) National Corn Yield Contest. His entry was measured at 346.0533 bushels per acre. By 2017, he had captured first place in the Class A nonirrigated division of the NCGA yield contest with an entry of 357.0621 bushels per acre. “Class A” corn states include all corn-producing states with the exception of the major producers--Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio or Wisconsin.

WHOLE FARM UP. Gause gives precision farming much of the credit for boosting his nonirrigated whole-farm corn averages from 140 bushels per acre to more than 200 bushels per acre. The average corn yield for South Carolina in 2017 was 136 bushels per acre.

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“Dan is fortunate to have very good soils for crop production. Many landowners want Dan to grow crops on their land because of his reputation for stewardship, and he keeps fields clean,” says Gause’s certified crop consultant Russell Duncan.

The veteran crop consultant notes that Gause prefers Goldsboro, Lynchburg, Duplin, Dothan and Norfolk soils. These sandy loam soils are known for their water-holding capacity.

THREE STEPS TO WINNING:

The former flue-cured farmer deploys a three-pronged approach to producing 350-bushel-per-acre nonirrigated corn yields in South Carolina coastal plain soils.

1 PLAN A PRECISION FERTILITY PROGRAM:

Gause works hand in hand with Duncan to fine-tune his fertilizer program. After harvest, Gause’s fertilizer dealer Carolina Eastern takes soil samples at 6-inch depths in 3-acre field segments. Duncan makes recommendations based on results from the soil samples, and Carolina Eastern uses GPS-guided trucks to apply variable rates of lime, phosphorus and potash over the cropland according to the nutrient map. The row-crop farmer estimates the yield potential of each field and applies 150 to 300 pounds of nitrogen per acre depending on the expected yield. He applies the highest rates in areas that may produce contest yields.

At planting, Gause applies 10 to 20 gallons per acre of 11-37-0 (28% nitrogen) starter fertilizer in 2-by-2 bands (2 inches to the side of the row and 2 inches below). In season, Duncan collects tissue tests and applies micronutrients with ground sprayers (or aerially) where scouting reveals nutrient deficiencies. Manganese is the most limiting micronutrient in his soils. Any deficiency is generally found in high-pH soils.

2 RAISE PLANT POPULATIONS:

In response to improved fertility and increasing yield potential, Gause has pushed up his seeding rate from 29,000 plants per acre to 34,000 plants per acre. He plants in 30-inch rows. His highest seeding rates are paired with his highest-producing soils. The Florence County farmer plants four to five corn hybrids, each with different maturity dates (and corresponding pollination times) to spread yield risk over variable weather conditions.

Gause generally cooperates with Pioneer with on-farm yield trials. He plants new varieties based on yield test results. But, Gause also depends on old favorites. His 357-bushel-per-acre championship yield in 2017 was planted with Pioneer P2089YHR. Pioneer P1775YHR produced a 339-bushel-per-acre yield entry for the contest. Both hybrids have been commercially available for several years.

3 KEEP IT SIMPLE:

Dan’s tobacco-farming background gives him a practical outlook when it comes to purchasing inputs and managing his crops. “Dan doesn’t spend money on products just because they are heavily hyped,” Duncan says. For example, Gause doesn’t routinely apply a fungicide across all of his corn acres. He scouts for signs of disease pressure and combines that scouting with the weather forecast to make his decisions. He uses Headline, Quilt or Approach fungicides when applications are appropriate. Gause’s weed control begins with a tank-mixed application of Roundup and atrazine (labeled rates) at planting. He makes a follow-up application of Roundup mixed with atrazine just before the canopy closes.

Despite his outstanding results in yield contests, Gause isn’t resting on his laurels. The 48-year-old farmer wants Gause Farms to keep reaching for higher, cost-efficient yields. “If we get good seeds out there and provide the right amount of fertilizer at just the right time, we [create] good opportunities for high yields.”

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