Platte, S.D., farmer Kory Standy is usually a little envious of the fertile, black topsoil to the east of him.
Farming in a bend of the Missouri River in south-central South Dakota, his soils are a sandy loam, and his fields don’t have the same nutrient punch as in other areas. “I’ve got my hands full trying to keep up with you guys,” he said on the phone after the Christmas holiday.
Standy’s corn managed to “keep up” just fine last season. Fine-tuned planting populations and applied nutrients helped his corn achieve the best yields in the state. Standy won the South Dakota Corn Growers yield contest with a yield of 294.35 bushels per acre. “It was a good year,” he said.
Standy farms on land that his grandfather once worked. He grows corn, soybeans and winter wheat and runs a cow-calf operation with his son and one employee.
It was a good year for yields across South Dakota in 2016. Nine of the yield contest entries topped 280 bushels. “It seems the averages are going up five to 10 bushels every year,” said Reno Brueggeman, president of the South Dakota Corn Utilization Council.
Here's an interactive map of this year’s winning corn yields:
He gives credit to precision technology such as the variable hybrid planters. Not many farmers have started to use the new planters, but those who do are seeing bigger yields.
“I think that’s the next big thing in corn,” Brueggeman said.
Brueggeman farms near Miller in east-central South Dakota and runs a crop insurance agency. His area had highly variable yields. The summer was hot, dry and windy.
Through his agency, Brueggeman saw yields ranging from 160 bushels per acre down to 80. “In a 10-mile drive, it was very up and down,” he said.
Around Standy’s Platte-area home, heat was a problem, too. His corn suffered some tip-back from 70-degree nights, he said. In tip-back situations, kernels don’t fill out at the tip of the ear because of some sort of stress, disease or lack of nutrients.
Rainfall was spotty in the central part of the state, but Standy’s field is drip-irrigated on 30-inch rows, so every row gets water. “There wasn’t ever a shortage,” he said.
Standy planted his corn at a higher population this year, trying 37,000 to 38,000 seeds per acre rather than his usual 36,000. His winning yield came from Dekalb variety DKC62-97RIB.
Standy has had success with yields in the past. He took first place in the irrigated category in 2015, but his 281.5-bushel best didn’t stand up to fields in other categories. The best yields went to farmers from southeastern South Dakota’s Union County and from Huron, where in 2014 the Riverside Farms Hutterite Colony was the first in the state to break the 300-bushel mark.
Those farms might benefit from the black dirt that is Standy’s envy, yet there are central South Dakota farms like his that perform well in the yield contest each year.
Standy continually is trying to improve his yields, and he thinks the key might be in applying manure. From conversations at the Commodity Classic trade show, he’s learned that everyone who gets high yields puts manure on their fields, he said.
That’s where his location puts him at a disadvantage again. The nearest hog farm is 20 miles away, making it expensive to haul manure to his land. Still, he said, he might make the investment on 20 acres or so to see how the yields improve.
“I want to hit 300-bushel corn, hopefully,” he said.