David Hula: A five finger approach to growing corn


David Hula admits he had a hand in setting a world corn-yield record in the 2015 National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) Corn Yield Contest. In fact, it’s an approach he uses each growing season.

Prior to the 532 bushels per acre yield win, the Charles City, Virginia, farmer had achieved two record-breaking yields planting Pioneer brand corn products. So, what is the pro’s secret to a bountiful harvest? Hula said it is a five-finger approach:

Thumb’s up Attitude

Have a positive attitude and be willing to change, a tip Hula took from Iowa corn-yield record holder Francis Childs.

“I think what he meant was do something different from what we have done time and time again, do something different from my granddad and my dad,” Hula said.

Index Finger- Work on what you can control

“That is the one digit that you can specifically point to that you’ve been doing something right or wrong in areas that we focus on such as soil management, fertility, and pest management,” Hula said.

Hula’s land, which was part of Captain John Smith’s Jamestown mainland farm and has been farmed for more than 400 years, has been a no-till since 1991. His soil is fine sandy loom, with 6 to 8 good inches of top soil, then clay, and some gravel below that so it drains really well. The soil also does not hold moisture or nutrients very well. Hula said it causes him to do a lot of spoon feeding of fertilizer particularly with irrigated environments and a lot of split applications on small grain as well as corn.

“We don’t have any magic piece of dirt, we are just paying attention to what our soil does,” Hula said.

Hula also times fertilizer for when he can impact yield. That’s why he focuses on the V3 and V4 stage, rather than V5, to add micronutrients. If moisture and weeds are under control, and that is your limiting factor Hula said it can work. He ended up picking up 27 more bushels with that strategy.

Another tip that worked was when a Pioneer agronomist said he could get 20 bushels more if he side-dressed corn 7 to 10 days before tassel with 100 pounds of nitrogen in a concentrated form. He gained about 42 bushels from that.

“We were trying to trick the corn to think it is not thickly populated and to think it has enough nitrogen to express itself,” Hula said. “We didn’t make it do something it couldn’t do. We just allowed it to express itself in the fullest way it can.”

When it comes to pests, whether disease or insect, Hula said he’s not going to try to tell you how to control them, but just control them.

Middle finger is Mechanical

Crop emergence uniformly in unison is key to success. Hula said his best advice is to make sure you have enough down pressure on the planter. That’s why he uses the DeltaForce.

“If you have a planter and you are thinking about what you can do to improve your stand and you just got a planter off the shelf, the number one recommendation is to use the hydrolaulic DeltaForce,” Hula said.

Ring Finger- Marrying the right corn brand

“Picking the right corn hybrid is like finding your spouse – it’s emotionally driven and if done right it’s rewarding, if done wrong it’s very costly,” Hula said.

After all seeds are the building blocks, Hula said.

Pinky finger- May be little but vital to success

Hula said growers need to develop a plan, execute it, adjust it, and evaluate it. Also keeping records is crucial.

“It’s not just planting crop, putting fertilizer on it, and putting water,” Hula said. “You need to see something out in your field quite regularly and that’s your shadow. You need to be out there checking.”

Then adjust your plan and try to react.

“If we notice the crop doesn’t have the potential at some point and time, then we just stop spending money,” Hula said. “That’s one thing, you don’t want to put good money on top of bad.”

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