Heath Cutrell farms near The Great Dismal Swamp, on the southeastern Virginia border with North Carolina; however, Cutrell's corn yields are anything but dismal.
In 2016, the Chesapeake, Virginia, farmer captured first place in the A nonirrigated division of the National Corn Growers Association National Corn Yield Contest. His yield was 347.23 bushels per acre.
Key, he said, is matching hybrids to soils. Cutrell depends on his DeKalb representative Glenn Rountree to do that. "Heath farms some good soils, but I give him a lot of credit for being willing to partner with his seed supplier, his fertilizer dealer and his chemical dealer to help him make knowledgeable business decisions," Rountree said. "Heath has a passion for farming, and he networks with high-yield producers around the country to really push his yields."
The winning bushel yield was planted on dark organic soil that hadn't had corn planted on it in several years. The 42-year-old farmer uses a rotation of corn, wheat and soybeans on his Tidewater farmland.
Cutrell also captured first and second place in the Virginia state yield contest with 347.23 bpa and 313.92 bpa. More, he recorded the top corn yield in North Carolina with a 287.86-bpa entry from one of his fields across the border in the Tarheel State.
Heath scored the top Virginia contest entries with DeKalb DKC64-69; the 313.92 bpa yield with DeKalb DKC62-08; and the 287.86 bpa yield with DeKalb DKC65-20. He averaged 251 bpa over 800 acres in 2016. In 2017, he planted six different DeKalb hybrids to spread the risk of variable weather conditions during the growing season.
Cutrell said he doesn't treat contest acres differently from his overall corn crop, and he doesn't do many on-farm test plots. "It's all we can do to grow 4,000 acres of crops. We don't have time to baby a few fields," he noted.
Rountree said the hybrid DKC64-69 that produced the 347.23-bpa yield is now 6 years old. He's looking forward to results from two newer hybrids (DKC64-35 and DKC67-44) that Cutrell planted in 2017.
The 2016 Virginia championship crop was planted at 36,000 seeds per acre. Cutrell upped the rate to 38,000 seeds per acre for his 2017 corn crop. That decision was based on work he did last year, when Cutrell ran a seeding rate test on 300 acres using 36,000, 38,000 and 40,000 seeds per acre.
"The 40,000-seeds-per-acre rate was just too many corn plants on an acre for us," he noted. But 38,000 seeds showed potential.
Two months before planting, Cutrell V-rips his corn ground and makes two trips with a field cultivator. Before running the Case IH 1245 12-row planter, he smooths the soil with a cultipacker. His corn is planted in 30-inch rows.
Cutrell targets April 10 as his planting date. He planted 1,000 acres of corn this past spring in 12 days, and the remaining 3,000 acres were planted to soybeans.
His tractor-planter setup is equipped with RTK (Real-Time Kinematic) auto-steer that helps with precision planting and reduces operator fatigue. He applies a preemerge tank mix of Roundup and 2,4-D soon after planting.
Pop-up fertilizer is a major piece of the high-yield puzzle for Cutrell. He applies Nucleus O-Phos 8-24-0 orthophosphate starter fertilizer directly into the furrow with the planter. Orthophosphate is a form of starter fertilizer designed to be readily available as soon as plant root hairs come in contact with the material.
Some starter fertilizers are polyphosphate and are usually applied 2 inches to the side of the furrow and 2 inches (2 x 2) deep into the soil. Polyphosphate fertilizer has higher salt content and goes through a chemical reaction to become orthophosphate before becoming available to plants, explained J.B. Riddick, of Helena Chemical. He noted that Nucleus O-Phos 8-24-0 has a low salt index, and this helps make the product safe to apply in the furrow.
During the growing season, Cutrell mixes a foliar fertilizer Ele-Max Nutrient Concentrate (ENC) at a rate of 1 to 2 quarts per acre with his tank mix of Roundup and atrazine herbicides when the corn is shin-high, and mixes the same rate of Ele-Max ENC foliar fertilizer with his fungicide application. Ele-Max ENC formulation contains a balance of 11-8-5 NPK (nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium) plus boron, iron, manganese, copper, zinc, cobalt and molybdenum.
"The rate depends on how our crop is developing at the time. We always consider using at least the 1-quart rate of foliar fertilizer with our postemergence fertilizer and our fungicide application," he said.
DISEASE AND STINKBUGS
The low-lying cropland around The Great Dismal Swamp provides an ideal environment for plant diseases. Cutrell applies a tank mix of the fungicide Headline AMP mixed with a pyrethroid insecticide bifenthrin. Stinkbugs are his primary insect problem.
As harvest approached in late August, Cutrell was optimistic about his 2017 corn yields.
"That 347-bpa dryland yield in 2016 might have been a once-in-a-lifetime thing. But, we pushed our corn a little harder this year, and the crop looked excellent through pollination," he said with cautious optimism. "We'll have to see what the combine yield monitor said."
The yield monitor registered a good number, but not quite as good as 2016. In the 2017 National Corn Yield Contest, Cutrell took first in Virginia. His nonirrigated entry came in at 333.4922.
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