David Hula has done it again, this time with an impressive, record setting, 616 bushels per acre. This tops the world record that he set in 2017 of 542 bushels per acre. And with this latest success, we’ve been seeing all sorts of news articles on the key to his success. Just about everyone who has a hand in his operation is stepping up to claim their product as the key to his success. Is it the micronutrients from Brandt? The Precision Planting Delta Force? The Pioneer seed? The Soil Warrior strip till? Well, the fact is, its all of them. While each of those are extremely important to the operation, I think that the thing David Hula excels most at is intensive management. He is able to take each of these components and integrate them as a part of a much larger, comprehensive management plan. I think this integrative approach is truly the key to success.
But he didn’t get there overnight. It seems like a daunting approach to start all sorts of new management practices at once. And if we try to do that, we will probably fail. Just too many things to manage at once. Hula frequently states that he likes trying new things—but he tries them one at a time on a few acres. If they are successful, he may try on more of his acres. This methodical approach has allowed him to pinpoint what does and doesn’t work on his acres. He encourages others to not be afraid of failing—failure gives you an opportunity to learn new things.
Out of curiosity, I read as many of the articles posted after his December announcement of the new yield record. I wanted to know what key strategies Hula used to reach this goal. Each source had a slightly different take on it, so I’ve compiled the answers and listed the top 5 management strategies mentioned in each article. The overall keys to success perhaps. Here we go.
· Genetics: Five years ago, contest winners were surmising that the genetic potential in a bag of seed topped out around 500 or 600 bu/ac. Well, we’ve now seen that surpassed, and winners now are guessing the potential could be closer to 800-900 bu/ac. So how much do genetics actually matter?
Quite a lot, actually. While many different hybrids are going to have the upper yield potential you are looking for, you also need to consider many hybrid specific ratings. What maturity are you shooting for? Have you checked its disease ratings, standability, and stay green? All of these are going to vary by hybrid, so make sure you take some time to look these ratings over. This is a good opportunity to meet with your knowledgeable Pioneer rep to talk over some of the details specific to different hybrids.
In an article from Successful Farming, Hula mentions that he prefers hybrids that flower earlier than their relative maturity. Essentially, if he is planting a 112 day hybrid, it would flower like a 109 day and theoretically give him a longer grain fill period. Several of Hula’s records, including this most recent record have been set with Pioneer P1197. He generally plants 38,000-54,000 seeds per acre in his contest fields. Hula states that the seed is the foundation for high yields, but how we manage it allows you to save those bushels.
· Emergence: Uniform emergence is one of the main contributors to Hula’s high yields. He aims to have plants up between 6 and 7 days after planting. Getting everything up early and at the same time gives those nice picket fence rows that get plants off to a great start. While historically all no-till, the past few years Hula has switched over to strip till. This provides a more optimum seed bed that Hula thinks is greatly helping emergence. This strip is both warmer in the spring, and more mellow after the winter and provides an optimum growing place for the seed.
· Nutrients: Hula places a high priority on nutrient availability to plants. One-acre grid soil samples are taken after soybeans each year. This allows Hula to utilize variable rate fertilizer with his Soil Warrior Strip Till machine and precisely place fertilizer for plant uptake. Additionally, he applies starter and 60 lbs of N at planting. In season, multiple applications of micronutrients are applied foliarly as well as several fertigation passes. In season nitrogen applications are done before tassel with Y drops. Multiple applications do a much better job due to the nature of the soil nutrient holding capacity of his soil. With the sandy loam soils Hula is farming, these smaller, targeted applications prevent nutrients from being lost through the soil readily. (We don’t have that as a major concern with our silty clay loams…)
Hula is also applying 200-250 pound of potash in front of corn every year. The plant will luxury consume a lot of that, but above potash consumed above what the plant needs will be released to the following crop through its residue. In NE Kansas, we have also seen a good response to higher levels of potash applications, above what threshold levels generally suggest.
Liming is on the farm schedule ever 3-4 years to keep pH at optimum levels. Remember, getting the pH right will make a whole host of nutrients available to the plant. Its one of the most effective ways to spend a dollar.
· Plant Health: For his 2019 record, Hula utilized a two-pass fungicide system. The first pass used Priaxor early, followed by a later pass with Veltyma. In our area we’ve also seen good response to a single fungicide application with a three-year average response of 5.9 bushels when using a foliar fungicide. Check out our local result on the website under the Resultsà crop protection tab.
Why does in season fungicide matter? The goal with these applications is to keep plants greener longer. The longer we can keep them green, the more photosynthesis, the more energy created, and the better kernel fill we can get. Remember—its not about kernel numbers, its about kernel depth. This is where we will see the largest yield increase moving forward.
Our blog post on foliar fungicides. (Be on the lookout for 2019 data coming soon!)
· Equipment: Interestingly, in the Successful Farming article, Hula mentions that his biggest key to maximizing yields is his planter. He takes time to check every row every other time that he fills the planter. “I only get one time to do it right. And when the planter leaves the field, you’re either blessed with what you did or cursed with what you did, and you get to live with it for the rest of the season,” he says. (Successful Farming, 2019)
Personally, Hula uses a Precision Planting Concel starter fertilizer system as well as Delta Force automated down force and speed tubes for precise seed placement. While Hula typically drives 3-4 miles per hour in contest fields and 5.5-6 miles per hour in the rest of the fields, the speed tubes still deliver more accurate seed spacing that Hula is looking for.
I don’t think you have to have any certain brand of equipment or upgrades to your planter. Its about optimizing what you have. Take extra time to make sure you have everything adjusted correctly. Work hard to utilize what you have to get the best seed to soil contact, uniform placement, and even depth. Start there and see how much of an improvement you can make.
These are just some of the methods and management practices utilized on the way to 600 bushels. The most important thing to remember is there is no single magic practice that will get you there. Creating a holistic, integrative management strategy for boosting yields is the answer. This is likely look a lot different for you than for David Hula. We are in a different climatic environment, with different soils, nutrient holding capacities, and water availability. But I think one of the most important things to learn from this latest record is to keep trying new things. Take a good, hard look at your operation and management practices and pick out one new thing to try on a few acres this year. Let us know what plans you have in the comments below! Good luck, and let’s have the best version of our growing season that we can!