Corn Champ Tips

Dowdy Talks About Growing 500 Bushel Corn

Dan Miller
By  Dan Miller , Progressive Farmer Senior Editor
This year Randy Dowdy hauled home a first place win in NCGA's National Corn Yield contest with 521.3969 bushels per acre. (DTN/Progressive Farmer photo by Mark Wallheiser)

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (DTN) -- It's no secret that Randy Dowdy can rock a yield contest. However, this year the Valdosta, Georgia, grower and Dowdy Farms produced two yields in excess of 500 bushels per acre in the 2016 National Corn Yield Contest. Topping the mark twice in the same year is a first for the 52-year-old contest conducted by the National Corn Growers Association (NCGA).

He pulled 521.3968 bushels per acre (bpa) from a no-till, strip-till irrigated plot to win the contest. Dowdy Farms went on to sweep the contest's irrigated category with entries of 501.0196 bpa, 465.0332 bpa and 463.1138 bpa. All of Dowdy's winning entries were grown with AgriGold hybrids. For purposes of the NCGA yield contest, a harvested contest plot must be at least 10 acres and planted to one hybrid number, only. Those 10 acres can come from any place within a larger field.

There's no super-secret sauce. Dowdy owes his success to being a "student of the corn crop and to God's blessings." His high-yield formula is straightforward: Plant stress equals yield lost. "You either eliminate stress, or you address it. I try to treat every acre so it can give me all it can," said Dowdy.

For the 2016 crop year, Dowdy Farms' whole farm average yield was 369.84 bpa. He farms 1,500 to 2,000 acres, depending on double-crop opportunities. His crops include corn, soybeans, wheat, peanuts and peas. "The corn average could have been much larger, but we had lodging issues that cost us 100-plus bushels in areas with certain hybrids," he added.

Dowdy's production costs this year were $2.74 per bushel. He sold his corn for $4.30 to $4.70 per bushel. Input and production costs include land rent, seed, chemicals, fertilizer, hauling costs, drying, harvesting, planting, aerial fees, spraying costs, revenue protection and interest on borrowed money.

Dowdy will present more details about his practices in meetings scheduled throughout the winter. His website is: www.growbigcorn.com. He answers emails, too.

Corn seed was planted at populations ranging from 28,000 seeds to 56,000 seeds per acre. Dowdy's contest fields were planted at a rate of the low-40,000s to middle-50,000s per acre.

His 2016 growing season began with a flood of rain -- 21 inches over a 17-day span early in the season. It cost him 600 to 700 acres of corn, but on his better-drained ground, that slug of moisture proved highly beneficial through a summer with abundant sun and no late-season stress. "I do all I can do, but at the end of the day it's all providential; the good Lord smiled on us," he said.

Timing is one thing that tops Dowdy's yield tip list. The difference between a "good" farmer and a "great" farmer is attention to detail and timing, he said. Other keys to success include:

-- Scouting. "The best thing I can see in my corn field is my shadow," he said. "It means I'm out there observing what the plants tell me they need. If you're in the field with your eyes open you can find all of those minimums."

The "minimums" Dowdy refers to is Liebig's Law of the Minimum. The Law of the Minimum states that crop growth is controlled not by the total amount of nutrients available, but by the scarcest nutrient available to the plant. In his take on the Law of the Minimum, Dowdy also considers plant population, skips and doubles, compaction, weed control, insect damage, plant disease, too much or too little water, poor drainage, planting errors and harvest-time losses as all being minimums on people's farms that are preventing yield capture.

-- Soil temperature. "Before I plant, the [soil] temperature has to be 56 degrees F and a forecast that will maintain that temperature," Dowdy said. "Or, there has to be a strong warming trend for the next week." Quick emergence is key. Dowdy wants to see his corn crop emerge within 10 days, or less. "Preferably within seven to eight days to get maximum yields," he added.

-- Emergence. Dowdy looks for his first spikes within 75 to 110 growing degree units (GDU), depending the vigor of the hybrid. From beginning to end, he wants to see an entire field emerge within 10 GDUs of one another. If not, yield is lost or capped.

-- Planting depth. "I'm going to plant at two inches, not two-and-a-quarter or one-and-three-quarters," he said. That depth protects the seed from early-season variations in temperature. It also is a depth where soil moisture levels are more stable.

-- Tissue testing. Dowdy is an advocate of leaf tissue testing. He begins tissue testing at 350 GDUs -- when the young corn plant begins to draw nutrients through its root system -- and continues testing through the R4 and R5 plant development stages. He said his goal is to maintain sufficient nutrient levels in the corn depending on the time of season, the maturity level of the corn and for the production level he expects. What is a sufficient nutrient level at one stage of plant development, is not necessarily sufficient at another.

"Tissue samples are a source of data we can make decisions from," he said. "The tests will help answer the question about the benefit of the nutrients being added, are we moving the needle?"

-- Hybrids. Try something different. "I hope farmers realize the value of the potential in all hybrids," Dowdy said. "But it's not just the hybrids. It's also God's favor, the weather and management."

Until two years ago, Dowdy had not heard of AgriGold. But in 2015, he tried three of their hybrids for the first time. He was impressed. Good stalk strength, grain quality, no lodging and good test weight, he recalls. This year, AgriGold hybrids produced the two contest yields of more than 500 bushels and two more above 460 bushels. AgriGold is one of eight brands sold by AgReliant Genetics of Westfield, Indiana. The others are Eureka Seeds, Great Lakes Hybrids, Golden Acres Genetics, LG Seeds, PRIDE Seeds, Producers Hybrids, and Wensman Seed.

Dan Miller can be reached at dan.miller@dtn.com

(PS/BAS)

Dan Miller