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Illinois Farmer Jeff Brown Believes Growing a Successful Crop Means You Must Also Grow

10 Successful Farmers: Jeff Brown

You have to think outside the box and challenge what you do. If not, Jeff Brown says your crops will only grow as much as you grow.

“After looking over one of my presentations, my wife, Amy, came up with that quote,” explains the Blue Mound, Illinois, farmer. “I think everyone should listen to it because it is a confirmation of what I talk to farmers about every day.”

Continually improving the way he grows a crop means incorporating technology that not only has an economic impact but also has an environmental one.

“The technologies that have had the biggest impact in my operation are Climate’s FieldView and the iPad,” he says. “While these tools allow me get all my data on one platform regardless of having a red planter on a green tractor with a yellow sprayer and a green combine, FieldView also allows me to use the scouting tool to document with pictures and scouting notes.”

The field health images, Brown adds, let him view his fields differently than ever before. For example, he can keep track of rainfall totals and compare the current growing season to other seasons or the five- or 10-year average. Another benefit of the technology is its ability to let him better monitor inputs.

“The nitrogen-modeling tool has reduced the amount of nitrogen I use while increasing yield. I was in the mind-set of more is better,” he says. “In 2014, I challenged the Climate model and did a replicated trial of 24 rows with late nitrogen and 24 rows without. It was Brown vs. Climate as I was setting up for the best crop ever in southern Macon County. I did not want nitrogen to be the limiting factor.”

Brown’s extra nitrogen produced 7 more bushels, but it cost him $70 per acre. 

“I should have stayed with 165 pounds of NH3 in the spring and 35 pounds of 32% with weed and feed like Climate recommended,” he says. “That was roughly a $50 loss and a lot of extra nitrogen I did not use.”

In 2015, he tested the model again on a field he picked up at the last minute. 

“I put on 70 pounds of nitrogen with the weed and feed, but I wasn’t able to sidedress until tassel,” Brown says. “At that point, I applied another 70 pounds with the Y-drop and my Hagie sprayer. I pulled soil samples before Y-drop and it showed I had nitrogen in the saturated soil. But the nitrogen model was telling me the corn needed more – the corn was starting to tell me it needed oxygen and nitrogen.”

He pulled tissue tests at R3. Those tests showed he had nitrogen levels similar to fields in the area that had over 300 pounds of nitrogen.

“The final exam came with the yield monitor. It showed 236 bushels per acre or .59 pounds of nitrogen per bushel of corn,” Brown says. “Even though I did not set a yield record of 350 bushels per acre in the NCGA contest like I did in 2014, I did produce a new personal record for nitrogen-use rate on my farm. It was not very fun walking on the edge, but I learned once again to trust the model.”

Did he hurt his corn? Brown doesn't think so. 

“Yields over 600 acres in the same area were all in the 230- to 240-bushel-per-acre range regardless of having over 300 pounds of nitrogen applied,” he says. “Randy Dowdy has taught me a lot over the past few years. One of those is trust, but verify. I trusted the model but verified on a small scale. As my comfort level goes up, I am weaning off excessive nitrogen use.”

In 2012, the late-season sidedress tool allowed Brown to delay his application several weeks later than conventional sidedress equipment. At this point, the crop was suffering from extreme heat and severe drought.

“I was ready to put nitrogen on over 1,000 acres when I realized I was on the verge of a disaster,” he recalls. “That year alone, I saved my operation $70,000 by not putting on nitrogen. It prevented me from worrying about using cover crops to trap the nitrogen not used by the dying crop. My nitrogen was still in the tank at the dealership.”

That’s not to say Brown isn’t still looking to increase yields.

“I still strive for high yields, but the best way to be sustainable is to produce the most per acre while not being crazy,” he says. “The number one way to cut costs is to increase yields. It has been my focus the past few years as margins get tighter.”

Jeff Brown is featured in Successful Farming magazine's "10 Successful Farmers" article running on pages 24 and 25 in the June-July issue.

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