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On this edition of the Strip-Till Farmer podcast, brought to you by Sound Agriculture, Otwell, Ind., strip-tiller Chris Perkins discusses the impact of hybrid selection on banded fertility, the key to a balanced nutrition plan below the root zone and how manipulating kernel weight can impact the yield equation.

The long-time proponent of banded fertilizer placement and owner of Banded Ag, a research, consulting and custom application business in Otwell, Ind., will deliver a general session presentation at the 2023 National Strip-Tillage Conference, set for Aug. 2-4 in Bloomington, Ill. Perkins will explain why successful nutrient management for corn production should be viewed as a season-long, relay race. “Failing to consider the yield-building nutrient needs of the crop over the last half of the growing race will cost you money,” Perkins says.

On this edition of the Strip-Till Farmer podcast, we revisit Perkins’ highest-rated session from the 2022 National Strip-Tillage Conference, in which he introduced his “feed the plant, not the soil” approach. 




The Strip-Till Farmer podcast is brought to you by SOURCE®️ by Sound Agriculture.

SOURCE provides 25 lbs of nitrogen and 25 lbs of phosphorus, leading to more productivity and supporting your fertilizer reduction goals. This foliar applied biochemistry has a low use rate and is tank mix compatible, getting a free ride into the field. Check out SOURCE — it's like caffeine for microbes. Learn more at

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Full Transcript

Noah Newman:

Hey, thanks for being here for another edition of the Strip-Till Farmer Podcast, brought to you by Sound Agriculture. My name is Noah Newman. I have some exciting news. Chris Perkins, Atwell, Indiana Strip-Tiller will deliver a general session presentation at the 2023 National Strip-Tillage conference set for August 2nd through 4th in Bloomington, Illinois. The longtime proponent of banded fertilizer placement and owner of Banded Ag, a research consulting and custom application business, we'll explain why successful nutrient management for corn production should be viewed as a season long relay race. Perkins says failing to consider the yield building nutrient needs of the crop over the last half of the growing race will cost you money. So on this edition of the podcast, we're going to revisit Perkins' highest rated session from the 2022 National Strip Yillage conference in which he introduced his feed the plant, not the soil approach. Let's listen in.

Chris Perkins:

So the backstory on myself and how Banded Ag came about. Well, Banded Ag kind of came about in a multitude of different ways. We got started back in 2017 on some research that I was doing with Dr. Fred Belo about a 20-inch row corn and stripped till relationship with hybrids. And then 20 inch row corn hybrids as well. So to kind of sum it up quickly for everybody, the first thing I would tell you for your operation on how we were created was to find your Fred. And might be an agronomist, a mathematician, a seed dealer, fertilizer dealer, but find that guy that can help you push you and make you better. Secondly, I had a background in the co-op system and we kept doing the same thing over and over every year. Nothing changed. The hybrids would change, the equipment would change. But from a nutrition standpoint, we just kept doing the same thing. And I was really getting tired of it because our crop was running off of hope.

We hoped we had good weather, we hoped it was dry enough when we planted, we hoped it wasn't too wet during the growing season. So we had to kind of simplify this and I'll go through this simplification in this presentation here, but the first thing is, is just simply choose the correct hybrids for your strip-till band. Those hybrids differ big time on a strip-till band. If you buy a strip-till bar, and that's the only change you make on your operation, I'm afraid there could be some missing opportunities that you're having taking place because these hybrids really haven't been screened for what we're wanting to do with this band of nutrition directly below it. The second part of that hybrid is feed it. There is no more efficient way to feed a hybrid than with a band of nutrition. It's simply just not true or simply not possible.

From a spreading standpoint, if you think about what it takes to spread fertilizer on a given acre, you cannot do it more efficiently than what you can do with a band of nutrition. And thirdly, protect them. Keep those things alive. Personally, I don't think one shot of fungicide is enough, in fact, I don't even think it's close to enough and it goes way beyond a disease spectrum. Marketing led farmers to believe that fungicides were there for disease prevention or aid, and they were true. There's no arguing that, but they do so much more that we don't give them credit for or think about, especially in the yield equation. So I was lucky. I met my Fred, met him in 2011 and the guy's been like a living mentor and a father to me. So I challenge you guys for your operations, if you want to get better, find your Fred.

So we'll start into the second part of this when we go through those three steps, grain yield. Grain yield is nothing more than a yield function of mathematics. Now you can take all this really confusing stuff in soil science and soil biology over here, or we can look at it on a more simplified approach and just simply using math equations to do that. So if we look at yield, yield is nothing more than plants per acre times kernels per plant times weight per kernel. So I have a question for you on that yield equation. Of the three grain yield functions, which do you have the most control over? Is it plants per acre, your kernels per plant or your weight per kernel? So of those three in that yield equation, which one can you manipulate to put on your side? You've got to get one of them going to your side, because it can be really difficult with another one up there.

And obviously the answer is plants per acre. If I'm paid off of yield, which is kernels, the quick way to get more kernels is to simply plant more plants. So to prove this, national average has been going up in yield, it has been since basically 1960. We take a look now currently where we're at and we're basically right now at about 32,000 plants in the United States on average, and it goes up about three to 400 plants every single year. And if you take a look where we've got the triangles going up and down, that's the yield for that year. Now to me, just looking at this and just using some just common logic, as I watch plants go up, I watch yield goes up. Now there's always a point of a no return also. So just like in the Goldilocks rule, everything's in moderation. So we're planting more plants.

I'm going to tell you roughly on a 30-inch row, about 38,000 is pretty close to about the most. Now I work with some NCGA guys, had some success, been pretty lucky, and we've pushed these things, 44, 46,000. Now I will tell you this, at 46,000 plants in a 30-inch row, that's one plant about every four inches, and we were really, really feeling good about it last year. I thought we were finally going to break 400, and then the heat got me. That heat can be a real bitch to try and get out of there, and I had a complex thinking I can overcome this. We've done it at 42 and raised 370 and 350 and 390. I just need a couple more plants and I'll get them over that edge. Well, it's funny how God can humble you real quick.

So simply, as these roots or these plants and populations go up, what happens to the root size? They get smaller. So now I got more plants and smaller roots. It doesn't bode well for broadcast. I need a way to feed these things more efficiently. So Dr. Belo is gracious enough to give me a couple of slides. So what he refers to that ruler-ometer down there below where they can dig up a plant and just simply measure it. It's the craziest thing. I mean literally you dig up a plant and you just measure the roots. And the less plants there are, the bigger the roots get and the more plants there are, the smaller the roots get. So as we're planting higher populations, we have to figure out a way to feed that plant population more efficiently. So simply a question for you, how do we efficiently feed these things?

Well, I've been pretty much saying it the whole time. We've got to band. Strip-till, in my opinion, either strip-till drip irrigation or even through the planter as well, has got to come more into play into US agriculture because the sheer number of plants with possible future government regulations like we heard about maybe yesterday in the scary topics that that gentleman was talking about, it's going to force people to do this. So going back to the math portion of this, if we look at high corn yield requiring managed yield components, especially in higher plant populations, if we want 200 bushel corn just simply mathematically, we need 32,000 plants. Each plant needs to have 550 kernels and each one of those kernels need to weigh 250 milligrams. If I want to gain 50 bushels, now I need 36,000 plants, I need 600 kernels and those kernels have got to weigh five milligrams more.

So now I've increased plants, increased kernels, and increased weight. Remember that yield equation? At the end equals yield, and get to 300 bushels, this is where it gets fun. Now, I kind of argue some with Fred on this one because we can grow 300 with a lot less than 45,000 plants, but at the time that we did this, it was 45,000 plants at 565 kernels per plant times a 260 milligram kernel. So you can envision plants, it's simple. 32,000 plants versus 45,000 plants. You can see that. 550 kernels versus 600 kernels. You can see that, it's just a bigger ear. Well, what's five milligrams? So I'm going to ask you guys, what does a US postage stamp possibly have to do with corn yield? So a few years ago I was given this presentation and a guy asked a really good question. He said, what does five milligrams look like?

So I googled and tried to find something that weighed five milligrams that most people would know. I couldn't find it, but I did however, find that a US postage stamp weighs 20 milligrams. So when we had a presentation the next time, I put postage stamps on everybody's table. Now there's far too many in here, it's expensive, and they're not paying me to be here, so I didn't do that. Take that Us postage stamp, cut it in half here and here, throw that one away, you got half of it, cut it in half again, throw that away. Now you got a quarter. Do we agree? Have I done by math? That quarter's five milligrams. That's what you have to put in each one of those kernels with 4,000 more plants on the same kernel counts. And a 550 count ear is not that many kernels, and you got 50 bushel.

So 4,000 plants, the quarter of that US postage stamp and on what's today's market? $6 corn, December futures, there's $300. There you go. So when we look at the importance of math and how do colonel's per bushel affect yield, now keep in mind I'm talking about colonel's per bushel. I'm not talking about test weight. Test weight was nothing more than a scam by the shipping industry. I'm not going to go down that rabbit hole of explaining the two differences, but they are different from one another. When we talk about kernel weight, we are not talking about test weight. So simple example, if I got a 16 by 36 ear with 576 kernels per plant and I'm planting at 38,000 plants per acre, that's simply 21,888,000 kernels per acre that I've got. Now I know that one corn is equal to 56 pounds of bushel.

There's the test weight thing, but I'm going to convert that to grams and then to simply get from grams to milligrams, I'm going to take that times 1000. So a lot of you, when you go out and do yield assessments or your marketing services do yield assessments, they do a 90,000 divisor. Is everybody somewhat familiar with this? Shake your head yes or no so that way I'm not losing my mind here. So this is where this 90,000 comes up that basically goes back to a 56 pound. That's going to give me a 243 bushel per acre on that 16 by 36 ear or about a 280 milligram kernel. On the same ear, the same plants per acre by affecting kernel weight, I can go to an 80,000 kernel bushel and now I've got 273 bushels per acre. And what we kind of do with the NCGA stuff and a lot of the different growers I work with in our programs, this one here, 21,888,000 kernels again.

It's the same ear, it's the same amount of plants, but we're using our mid-sixties for a devisor on our yield. Now that's a 373 milligram kernel. That's a pretty good size kernel, but that's also 321 bushel. So by going from a 90,000 kernel per bushel, which I need you guys to think in your heads, is a small kernel, okay? Versus a 68,000 pound kernel I want you to think is a big kernel. I'm going to gain roughly 78 bushels off the same ear and off the same plants. So a question for the men. What is something on the female anatomy that is fun to look at like a corn kernel? In the interest of an HR issue, I will leave that to your own thoughts, but to me, in this beautiful, in this pick, I see a beautiful, large, nice plump kernel without a wrinkle in sight. But hey, it's your imagination of what I'm talking about.

This is not what you want to see. We'll go back to that again. You notice that ear, there's hardly any dent in it. This is part of the system. This is also part of screening the hybrids. Trying to push that out. Now, some of these NCGA guys have talked about this and this is actually possible to do. So what we're doing is we're able to put more protein into each one of those kernels versus more starch. And the reason this is being done is because of nitrogen. Nitrogen and protein are in direct correlation to one another. If you want to know your protein, figure out what your nitrogen is in your kernels or vice versa. It's just a mathematics equation to bring them both back to each other.

Noah Newman:

Let's burn a quick time out. Share a word from our sponsor, Sound Agriculture. Source provides 25 pounds of nitrogen and 25 pounds of phosphorus leading to more productivity and supporting your fertilizer reduction goals. This foliar applied biochemistry has a low use rate and is tank mix compatible, getting a free ride into the field. Check out Source. It's like caffeine for microbes. Learn Now, back to Chris Perkins.

Chris Perkins:

I see a lot of pictures of people. "Oh, I got a 16 by 55 ear," and that thing is wrinkled the hell and back. It looks like vanilla wafers hanging on there and it's as light as a feather. That's not what we want to see. I really don't want to have these real huge kernel counts. So a little tip that nobody really likes to let out, but I will. These guys that are really successful in the NCGA, we really don't care what our kernel counts per ear are. Now I say that with respect. We don't want some ear that's only like a 14 by 20, but we know how to manipulate yield and weight more importantly on this back end of this equation to where we can really pop these yields up. But having an ear that's an 18 by 50, it's not going to weigh near that much. Most of us want to see a nice 16 round ear because they're easier to manipulate. This thing here is a good example of source and sink capacity that went wrong.

One or the other happened, because if you noticed the corn kernel itself built the molecular body that it wanted to grow bigger, but it didn't have a way to fill that said kernel and it shrunk down and shriveled. That is light corn and that is not the answer to high yields. So how do I screen these hybrids when we do this? Well, I'm going to take you through one scenario how we do it. We do it a multitude of about three different ways. I'm just going to include the one for time's sake. So what we do sometimes is we'll do what we call an intense versus standard management plot layout. Literally the intense management layout is banded fertility in the spring. Not the fall, the spring. 28% application, the spring and fall applied. A lot of times I like to do these in corn on corn areas. So the previous year before, we'll go put down just a few gallons of 28 just to kind of keep the biology moving along to break the previous corn crop down.

I'm lucky enough I can do that with where our climate is in southern Indiana. We still can have some nice warm days in September, October and well especially September, but October, November. So we still get biology going and keep 50 degree days quite easily. 38,000 plant population. I'm not interested in variable rating them. We flat rate all of it. We do a simple five gallon per acre infertile starter. It's really nothing more than 10340 or 7255 or 31818. It's whatever I got my hands on. And we do a 2X fungicide application after tassel. Now this year it's more like three applications because of Xyway in the starter. So total nitrogen on these hybrids, we're looking at 177 pounds of nitrogen. Now on the standard side, I try to make this thing as cheap as humanly possible because I always get, well, you got extra bushels, but did it pay? Did it pay? So I thought, you know what, I'm really going to stack the deck against me. I'm going to do everything as bastardized and cheap as I can and I come up with this program.

We broadcast all the fertilizer out there. We use urea, dap, potash, put on a biological, sometimes 28% fall application, 32,000 plants, no starter. We will side dress at V6 to try and give it a fair shot, one fungicide app, in between the pre and post it's 220 pounds. So out of the gate I'm already short 43 pounds of nitrogen and this is what can happen sometimes in those plots, how mother nature can be what I like to refer to as a pregnant dog year. Now if you notice on the far left side it says standard management, that's 32,000, and then the next one where the corn's laying all flat, that's the intense management, and then you got the standard management again, and then you got intense management again. So we double it up, but those are the exact same hybrids in every one of those blocks. They're out there twice. Well actually, excuse me, four times, two in the intense and two in the standard.

Now, when this happened the first time to me, that one really hurt because a lot of people that were wanting me to fail really got to point their finger at me and say, "See, told you you're pushing it too much." Well, I learned something very interesting. If my corn goes flat in a storm and my neighbor's beside me doesn't and it's the same height and population's close, there's a really, really, really, really, really good chance I was going to throttle my neighbor on yield, which makes me look at Pioneer in a whole new light now. We just had a couple of bad days with Pioneer sometimes. So I ask, all right, what's the yield on this? So if you take a look at five DeKalb hybrids down there, there was three more of another company. I didn't include them just for quick sake, but if you take the two standard management trials out there and the two intense management trials out there and we put them together, this is what it averaged.

255 versus 190, 265, 194. If you kind of pay attention and look at the standard, you go from 169 to a 194. 25 bushels. 25 bushels, that's the hybrid. You don't want that guy down there on the end. You want everything to be that 6595 right there in that standard system. You're putting the weight on the hybrid, not your system. Conversely though, if you look at the intense, man, they become a whole lot more even on that bar graph. We've removed some of the hybrid differences to an extent. So the 6595 I picked on right here, 265 versus 194. Those two ears are from the exact same hybrid, side by side, as close as I am to that table.

Again, nice voluptuous, beautiful, big kernels. Dented like crazy and shrunken in. Now what's interesting, and this is where most sea guys get themselves in trouble, and get the farmer maybe in trouble sometimes, they go out and they start doing their kernel counts and they come back all, "Mr. Farmer, you got 18 by 40s. It's going to be a great year." Well, that's dangerous because that ear on the left, that thing has 49 kernels less. That's only a 520 colonel ear, but there's 6,000 more of them and it weighs roughly 57 milligrams more. So I put in almost 2.5 US postage stamps into each one of those kernels in weight more than the other side. This is how this math starts to make sense. So if you simply take a look over there off of the math of it, 38,520 kernels per year gives you 19 million kernels, 32 at 569 gives you 18 million colonels.

You got more kernels, but you're not paid off kernels, you're paid off weight. So a standard management, that's at 96,000 kernels per bushel. That would be a safe time to use that 90,000 divisor when you're trying to figure out what your yields are before you go combine. The other one on the left is 74,000. By changing those kernels per bushel, we're adding 80 bushel, little less, 74 bushel, whatever that number is. So this here gets kind of busy, but there's one thing I wanted to point out that's in the orange. If you notice you got the yellow box and you have the blue box. The yellow was the standard that was standing up in the previous slide you saw earlier, and the blue was what went flat. What's interesting, and you can pay attention to the yields over there if you want. You've already seen it in the other slide.

But for this one section we pulled out, we were like, where is this weight really coming from? We've got some theories. So being that I have a pretty good relationship with Fred and he has his access to some pretty expensive equipment, we were able to run a kernel analysis on these things. Now if you notice in the yellow where it shows the protein, it's right in between oil and starch. You see all those sixes and 73 down there at the bottom. Now look in the blue box, they're all high eights. That's that protein and nitrogen relationship.

What I did was, is I took starch and reduced it down to make way for more protein. Now the reason that that's important is protein on a molecular level weighs more than starch. Well, there's another great thing that this tells me. When I know protein and I know my yield, I can then figure out how much of the nitrogen was used in my program. Does that make sense? It's not a, "Well, I put 220 out there, how much of it did I get?" No, no, no, no. We can simply do the math and tell you exactly how much you got. So I put on 220 pounds of nitrogen on the standard side. I even side dressed it to give it a little bit better health and I could not get enough nitrogen in the plant. So what that comes back and tells me is that it's not efficient.

We've got to go beyond that mass flow mechanism. Sometimes that's where that nice band and strip-till and root interception really makes this kind of sexy for somebody like me. When I get higher proteins, that means I've made my efficiency of my investment for the pound of nitrogen more worthwhile. And ultimately that's what we're worried about. I heard some comments around here yesterday, all the high fertilizer price, the high fertilizer price. I get it, we all have to buy it. I would be trying to find a way to make it a hell of a lot more efficient what we're using. So sometimes these trials don't go as exactly as planned. If you noticed here, this is a customer of mine and you can see the dark green strip through here through here and right there. So what you got right here is 32 rows that is strip-till banded versus 32 rows of the grower his way. And then you've got 32 rows right here of banded and then 32 rows his way and then 16 rows, one last pass banded.

This is where you got screened hybrids. There wasn't a bushel difference between any of us. That one was a pretty difficult one for me because this was the very first trial that I ever did. We'd just built the bar. I just put my name on the line. Everybody was expecting me to fail. I just had to figure out a way to disappoint them, and then this happened. Now what's interesting, this hybrid in the next trial over did the exact same thing. And then the next trial over did the exact same thing. Now, it wasn't a trial like this. This is what we call our strip-till by hybrid. So what you have is you've got eight rows of a hybrid that's on the band, literally right beside eight rows off the band.

So what we were able to see though when we went to the other trials is that hybrid didn't really care about that band. It's basically because of its root system. It is a very larger root system. So when we did this and combined them, I was at least able to go back to the grower and say, "Listen, it didn't work well for you and it didn't work well in these plots, but look at these other eight hybrids that was like 70 bushel." This is what I talk about screening those hybrids. Why do I want to plant a hybrid that's not going to show me any difference on the band, if I have to go through all of the headache, all of the work of running a strip-till bar? I love running strip-till bars. I've got four of them, but it's not as easy as just hook into a field cultivator and taking off. So I want to make sure I got these things right before I go do this. So question for you. What percent of your yield is still determined or undetermined at R5?

So can we at least all agree that on a corn plant you got your V stages, then we get to VT, R1, 2, 3, 4, 5, R6. Final one, anybody got a guess? Almost half. At R5, everything you've done, you still have half of your yield potential hanging in the balance. Half. That's a hell of a big number because a lot of times when it tassels and then you get an inch of rain, there's a lot of people like, "We made it. It's going to be a good crop." And there is a long way to go. At R5, which is right before it's going to basically black layer, so this thing's dented, if you will, at this point. It's hard. You could throw it at somebody and hit them and it'd hurt, you still have half of your yield to be figured out.

The next approximately 30 days to physiological maturity or AKA black layer are critical for cellular fill to add weight in those kernels. This goes back to what I was talking about earlier in sink versus source capacity. Plant farts. So we talk about this and people kind of laugh sometimes, but plants really do fart. Has anybody been to a precision meeting for planters or high yield meetings? What's one of the first things they tell you? Every one of those plants cannot have a bad day and every one of those plants need to come up pretty damn close to the exact same time. Because the guy that gets left behind, he is going to be a pain in your butt more than towards the end of the year. What will happen is that plant will signal it's under stress and it will release ethylene gas. Now you are like, "All right, what's ethylene gas?"

Always tell people, go take a rotten banana and put it beside a green banana. Then take a green banana and put it somewhere else in a whole nother room. I'll guarantee you that brown banana is going to make that green one ripen a whole lot faster than the other ones by itself. It's because of ethylene. That is what fungicide does. It can help reduce the stress in a plant. Now, maybe that disease could be a stress factor. I will give you that. Maybe it was we planted too wet, planted too fast, didn't have enough down pressure, didn't strip-till. I don't know what it is, but for some reason, a few of your 38,000 plants came up late. Now they're causing a problem for the next guy. This is why we spray multiple passes of fungicide. At R5, that plant needs to still be as green as it was in the middle of June and the middle of July.

Now, you can keep a plant just green and you don't gain any more yield. That's not a fault of the hybrid or a fault of the fungicide. That's a fault that you didn't have the program underneath it to let it fill more. So if we look at the importance of a fungicide, picture on the right side, that's a two pass fungicide application at VT and R3 versus a one pass at VT. Now, I'm pretty fortunate I don't have to rely on a helicopter or an airplane to make these passes and it winds up in God who knows where. I can simply go in with my Haggy and we can get really good data sets off this so we can go right to the row or maybe skip a row in case it was a little windy or went out on it. But this is exactly what we see all of the time. Remember those bigger kernels I was telling you about? That's what they're like when you cut them in half. That is simply one more pass of fungicide. That corn on the left and the right had strip-till, all pre-plant, starter.

It even had fungicide at V8. Then I got another one at VT, and then another one on the left side picture at R3. That trial right there was worth basically about 17 or 18 bushel additional over just the single pass. So the ability to finish. For far too long, in my opinion, we have been way too concerned with kernel counts. Don't get me wrong, they are important, but not having the program in place to finish what you have is more of a handicap than lower kernel counts. Perfect example is in that picture right there where I'm holding the two ears split in half. Those are two 16 round ears. Just the one is a hell of a lot bigger than the other, which means it weighed a hell of a lot more than the other.

In closing, if you think about the system, people want to make it more complicated than what it is. Believe me, I'm not that smart. I had to find ways to make this thing a little dumber, if you will, for me to understand. I wasn't smart enough to do the stuff like Neal Kinsey does, and Dr. Belo does, and there's a Tristan Bayer out here, that he does. I'm not that smart. I can't do that. I don't like to read that much, and I sure as hell didn't understand all the soil science and biology and it just didn't make sense to me. So I found a simpler way. This was it. Select the best hybrid, plain and simple. I keep going back to it. That is a very, very important part. Secondly, feed that hybrid to the best of your economical ability and your strip-till band. And third, keep that hybrid absolutely alive as long as you absolutely can.

Noah Newman:

That'll do it for this week's addition to the Strip-Till Farmer Podcast. Once again, you can hear Chris Perkins' encore presentation at the 2023 National Strip-Tillage Conference set for August 2nd through 4th in Bloomington, Illinois registration. Now open. Head to strip-till to check out the program and register. My name's Noah Newman. Thanks to our sponsor Sound Agriculture. Thanks to Chris Perkins and thanks to you for tuning in. Until next time, have a great day.