Sticking with corn-on-corn
Ask Robert Jones what he'll change about his family's 2013 continuous-corn strategy after the 2012 drought, and he'll tell you nothing. Zip. Zero. Nada.
“It's no use trying to outguess the weather,” says Robert, who farms near Palmyra, Indiana, with his son Chris; his brother Mark; Mark's two sons, Logan and Casey; and two other nephews, Tony and Scott. “Only the good Lord is in charge of that.”
What the Joneses consider are factors they can control: seed selection and placement, weed control, fertility, crop residue, and risk management. Then, they take these factors and others, and align them into a well-honed plan.
“We make a plan and administer it,” says Robert. “We need to be proactive and head off weed and fertility problems before they happen.”
Equally important is the gumption to stick with the strategy.
“Continuous corn is not for puddle jumpers,” he says. “If I were talking to a farmer thinking about continuous corn and he wants to skimp on grain bins, the session would be over.”
Skimping on one component can bring the entire system down. “You have to be committed,” he says.
The Joneses switched to continuous corn in 2004. After hitting a yield wall with soybeans, they returned to corn.
“With continuous corn, we could repeat good yields year after year,” he says.
Last year's drought and corresponding lower yields crimped this strategy. Still, the Joneses plan to stay the course across their 4,500 acres of corn-on-corn in 2013. “We surely won't plan for anything like that in the future,” says Chris.
Here are six components they use for successful corn-on-corn production:
1. Workhorse hybrids
The Joneses spurn fast-growing racehorse hybrids for slow-but-steady workhorse hybrids. Racehorse hybrids tend to have higher yield potential in high-yielding environments, but they also exhibit less tolerance in low-yielding situations. Meanwhile, workhorse hybrid yields vary less with more consistency.
“With racehorse hybrids, everything has to be perfect — deep, rich black soils and lots of rainfall. We don't have those conditions here,” says Robert.
That makes hybrid selection all the more crucial, particularly when it comes to root systems.
“A strong root system helps make it drought-tolerant,” says Robert. “A good root system will find water and nutrients.”
Disease resistance is something the Joneses prize in a hybrid. “We have to look for corn hybrids that will face multiple grass fungi in multiple years,” Robert says.