David Hula proves once and for all that you can achieve high yields and still save soil, lower costs and keep nutrients where they belong.
This week the Charles City, VA, no-till farmer won the national title in NCGA’s corn yield contest, growing a whopping 429.02 bu. per acre in the no-till/strip-till irrigated category.
Hula farms some of the same fields first cultivated by the colonists in 1607, in Eastern Virginia. When I met him last year on the Conservation Technology Information Center (CTIC) annual "Conservation in Action" tour, he said he never thought he could make a corn crop with Virginia's sandy "Pumunkey" soil and dodgy moisture. He adopted continuous no-till in part to hold down equipment and labor costs.
“We don’t till anything,” he says.
Some farmers believe intensive no-till means giving up yield, but Hula’s track record proves otherwise. He's won multiple NCGA corn yield contests before by spoon-feeding nitrogen three or four times a year with starter and sidedress applications.
Hula does a lot of little things to create what he calls a 'high yield environment': soil tests, tissue analysis, foliar applications, and micronutrients where needed. As a result, his organic matter has gone from 1.5 to around 3%.
"Our data from field maps gives us a great knowledge of what the soils needs to grow a crop," he says. "We've pulled good yields off some fields with only 1 lb. N per bushel yield."
Hula follows a nutrient management plan for all his crops. After corn harvest, he applies 20 to 30 pounds of N to help decay crop residue and stimulate root growth for seeding small grains. In January he starts counting tillers; in March he collects tissue samples, and based on nitrate levels, will apply more liquid N.
For corn acres the Hulas inject 60 lb. of liquid N as starter fertilizer 2 inches beside and 3 inches below the seed row. They also apply 3-18-18 at planting, just to give plants a kick start. “The plant needs adequate nutrients to get going because the roots are going to take a little longer to get to that 3-xy-2 band of fertilizer,” he explains.
A higher rate at planting lengthens his sidedress application window. “With 2,200 acres of corn and one sidedress sprayer, we need to spread our application window out.”
When corn is at four-leaf stage, the Hulas apply 1.1 pounds of nitrogen per bushel yield goal. Most of the good soils get sidedressed twice.
For everyone who ever doubted that high yields could go hand in hand with best management practices, here’s your proof.