Kevin Kalb has been on the leadership board of the National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) National Corn Yield Contest since he first entered the competition in 2007. High yields, he has found, have their roots in the autumn before planting.
Farming near Dubois, Indiana, Kalb won the AA Non-Irrigated category in 2013 with a 374-bushel-per-acre entry and finished second in 2014 with 361 bushels. Class AA states include Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin.
Fertility is a big part of Kalb's corn-growing success, and the 48,000 feeder turkeys on his farm go a long way toward helping with that. But handling high-residue cornstalks and large amounts of turkey manure provide some challenges for one of Kalb's top "musts" for winning yields -- preparing a good seedbed.
"Bigger yields start in the fall," he explained. "We're corn-on-corn for the majority of our operation, and we use manure to help break down the residue behind harvest. Usually, we'll put down 2 tons of manure per acre and then use our Case IH 870 disk ripper to incorporate it and to break up the residue and bury it to get it broken down by the following spring. On our hills we practice minimum till, however."
Before planting, Kalb runs a Great Plains Turbo-Max vertical tillage tool over the fields to further prepare any overwintered residue for the planter, he said.
Kalb uses a 16-row Case IH 1250 planter set on 30-inch spacings to drop 32,000 to 34,000 seeds per acre on his commercial corn acres and 44,000 to 48,000 on his contest acres.
Kalb suggested commercial corn growers pay attention to planter speed. "Anytime you see row units bouncing, you're going to have a difficult time getting accurate seed placement."
To ensure the best entry point for his crop, Kalb's planter has Yetter row cleaners. They are invaluable in minimum-till conditions.
Kalb pays close attention to down pressure, particularly as he moves between various soil types. He shoots for a uniform, 2-inch seed depth.
"We spend a lot of time watching the planter and getting out and looking at what it's doing as soil types and moisture levels change," he said. "We're big proponents of not getting in a hurry. I figure if you need to plant more acres, then get a bigger planter. But don't run faster than 5 miles per hour."
Kalb is a strong believer in providing fertility and wireworm protection with the planter. "We use an in-furrow starter solution, as well as a 2 x 2 (2 inches to the side of the row and 2 inches deep) system on the planter," Kalb explained. "Depending on the soil sample results, we'll use eight to 20 gallons of a half-and-half mixture of 28% UAN and 10-34-0.
"Also, we use a pint per acre of Bayer CropScience's Serenade (a root-growth promotant) in-furrow, and we treat our seed with Genesis Ag's Invigor 8, a root-growth promoter."
Kalb said he continues to improve his practices by visiting other growers. "Once we started using the in-furrow fertility and the 2 x 2 system on the planter, those practices are now 'must do' for us," he explained.
Other times, accidents provide a good learning experience. "For years we jumped out there and planted as soon as it was dry enough to get in the field, usually about April 1. We always had decent stands, but they weren't perfect.
"This year, it rained and rained, and we didn't get seed in the ground until April 27 and 28, which provided much warmer soil conditions than what we usually plant in. We got as perfect an emergence as one could ask for."
From now on, he plans to hold off planting until the ground is 55 degrees Fahrenheit. "Don't underestimate the importance of ground temperature," he said.
Editor's note: From its very first day, the corn seedling is under attack by much of the world around it. Weeds are its biggest threat, stealing yield from the moment the corn seed settles into the bottom of the seed trench. In this series, DTN/The Progressive Farmer looks at why weed control and good early-season practices are key to producing high-yielding corn crops. This is the third story of a six-part series.
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