Dream Big, Yield Bigger

Iowa Farmer Sliced Through 300-Bushel Barrier With Pattern Tiling

Patrick Hammes had a "dream" crop year in 2016. (Progressive Farmer photo by Bob Elbert)

Patrick Hammes had a "dream" crop year in 2016. The 57-year-old farmer, from Batavia, ‌Iowa, placed second in the AA nonirrigated division of the National Corn Growers Association National Corn Yield Contest with a yield of 320.29 bushels per acre. Only Kevin Kalb, of Dubois, Indiana, who captured first place in the division with 339.03 bushels per acre, bested him.

Hammes planted Pioneer P1197AM on his high-yield field and also planted some DeKalb hybrids that performed well. His best farm averaged 275 to 280 bushels per acre across 240 acres. The state average corn yield in 2016 was 203 bushels per acre.

"We've kept the fertilization at good levels, and we installed pattern drainage tile lines," said Hammes, who owns and operates Iowa Family Farms with his sons Justin, 22, and Mike, 24.

As you might expect, excellent weather played a big role in the bumper dryland crop. Hammes planted corn under warm, dry conditions. His season began in mid-April.

He plants corn in 30-inch rows with a 24-row John Deere 1770 DB60 planter at a rate of up to 500 acres a day. The planter is equipped with a liquid fertilizer application kit. Starter fertilizer (10-34-0) is applied 2 inches to the side of the row and 2 inches deep at a rate of 5 gallons per acre.

The southeastern Iowa farmer has found that pattern tiling has produced a great yield benefit. Depending on the weather during a particular year, Hammes estimates tile drainage has increased yields on this field by an average of 10% per year.


Removing excess water promotes even emergence and improves utilization of nutrients in plants through the growing season.

"Some of our most productive soils are poorly drained. A high water table at planting contributes to poor aeration of the soil and poor root development," said Iowa State University agricultural engineer Greg Brenneman. Dropping the water table 3 feet early in the growing season improves soil aeration and allows plants to develop deep root systems that pay off later in the growing season.

"There's no negative effect from tile drainage in a dry year," Brenneman added. "Tile drainage doesn't remove that much water. It's more important to have improved soil aeration that helps plants develop deep root systems."

The tile lines on Hammes' high-yielding field are installed 40 feet apart in a parallel pattern. Parallel tile systems are considered a good way of increasing productivity for flat, regularly shaped fields. Pattern tile drainage costs $500 to $800 per acre.


Hammes planted his high-yield corn crop behind soybeans. He used a Kelly harrow in a minimum-tillage operation to prepare the ground. The Jefferson County farmer planted his highest-yielding corn at a rate of 35,000 seeds per acre.

Before emergence, Hammes applied a tank mix of SureStart and Roundup. SureStart controls more than 60 weeds and grasses, and offers three nonglyphosate modes of action to control glyphosate-, triazine- and ALS-resistant weeds. When corn reached the V4 stage, he applied a tank mix of atrazine and Roundup.

Hammes sidedressed knee-high corn with 15 pounds of sulfur and 60 pounds of urea per acre. The corn that produced the 320.29-bushel-per-acre yield received a total of 275 pounds per acre of nitrogen. After tassel, Hammes used Headline AMP fungicide to control fungal diseases.

A drought this past year prevented a repeat of 2016, Hammes said. But there is always next year.