Pillars Of Production

Fertility, drainage and variable-rate technology produce 250-bushel corn.

Wally Linneweber has added hydraulic downpressure to his new planter to ensure more accurate planting depths across his soils, Image by Mary Ann Carter

Wally Linneweber has been a dedicated no-tiller ‌for 10 years and has used yield monitors and ‌other data-collection techniques since the ‌1990s. He has amassed an impressive knowledge of his soil.

His farm, near Vincennes, Indiana, is a corn, soybean, grain sorghum and wheat rotation with whole-farm corn yields averaging 240 to 250 bushels per acre. Linneweber farms with his son, Kyle, and son-in-law Cody Hendershot.

The veteran farmer is quick to tell you the three practices for consistent high yields:

> Drainage. Every acre is tiled every 40 feet.

> Fertility. The farm is soil-sampled on 2.5-acre grids and benefits each year from spring and fall applications of hog manure supplied by the 13,000 contract hogs in residence on the farm.

> Variable-rate technology. Variable-rate boosts productivity by applying the right fertilizer and seed for soil conditions, and reduces overall inputs across the farm.

Linneweber had been growing continuous corn under no-till management. But, because of drought, he was forced to start over last year and work the land conventionally. “We didn’t want to, but we did what we had to,” he says. He planted first in mid-April. “We had to tear it all up and replant in mid-May.”

The weather improved but remained cool after the replant. Regular showers took the crop through the season after providing perfect conditions for pollination, and the result landed Linneweber’s wife, Jeannie, a second-place win in the National Corn Growers Association’s National Corn Yield Contest in the nonirrigated category. Her entry of Pioneer P1479AM binned 347.5034 bushels per acre from 35,000 plants per acre.

NEEDED BOOST. “We used a starter fertilizer of 10 gallons per acre of 28% nitrogen with 1 pint of boron and 1 pint of sulfur applied through the planter,” Jeannie says. “It’s something we started the year before, and it gives the crop a needed boost to get going--especially in the cooler weather.”

Because of low corn prices, Wally says he returned to a soybean, milo and wheat rotation this year. The grain sorghum he plants in river bottomland nearly sells itself in the birdseed market. But, in corn years, “I use a half-dozen hybrids from each of my seed suppliers, and I grow test plots on my farm each year.

“Our year begins with a cover crop of a small grain like wheat or rye mixed with tillage radishes and oats,” he explains. “We’ve been using covers since the mid-1990s because they help us save a dollar or two on fuel and fertility. The radishes do a lot of tillage for you, and they save fertility in fields if there’s any left after the cash crop.”

Linneweber’s cover crops are sown as soon as possible after row-crop harvest, broadcast with fertilizer and incorporated with a vertical-tillage pass with a 35-foot Landoll VT machine.

“We run the Landoll at 12 mph and can cover a lot of area quickly,” he says. “It breaks down the stalks but yet leaves enough cover to get through easily with the planter the following spring. It’s the only tillage we do.”

Soil-sampling and the availability of on-farm hog manure plays a big part in the farm’s finances, with 4 million gallons of manure applied according to soil-sample analyses in split spring/fall applications.

RETURN ON MANURE. “Access to that soil-building manure makes a big difference to our operation,” Linneweber explains. “Each of those 13,000 hogs is worth $2.68 per year in fertilizer if I had to go buy it commercially. That’s another reason those pigs are a big part of our cash-flow.”

Linneweber applies the manure into wheat stubble and cover-crop acres with a hose drag mounted on a 60-foot no-till toolbar.

Building fertilizer prescriptions based on years of yield data and soil analysis, Linneweber uses John Deere variable-rate technology to apply about 100 pounds of anhydrous ammonia each year preplant on his row-crop acres. Then, he applies a starter fertilizer made up of 10-34-0, zinc, boron and other micronutrients through his split-row JD 1795 planter.

Ensuring proper field drainage has been very important to parts of Linneweber’s operation, particularly on a farm he had leased in the past and had noticed water ponding in low spots.

“When we bought the place, I knew there was good yield potential in the rich soil of those low areas, so we immediately started tiling,” he says. “I didn’t keep exact records, but we probably saw an increase of 20% in yields on those areas.”

Linneweber has invested in a new planter. “This year, I bought a new [John Deere 1795 planter] equipped with hydraulic downpressure, so I’m looking forward to watching it perform next season,” he says. His variable-planting rates range from 28,000 to 40,000 seeds per acre depending upon soil type and consist of several hybrids and numbers from both AgriGold and Pioneer.

Once the corn is up and approaching the V6 stage, Linneweber applies a prescription-based sidedress depending upon the overall appearance of the crop and results of tissue-sampling. That generally is the last time he is in the field until his JD 9660 and eight-row corn head break open the first field of corn.