The top 3 finishers in both the irrigated and non-irrigated classes of the 2021 NCGA Strip-Till, Minimum-Till, Mulch-Till, Ridge-Till category share their championship stories and keys to success below. 

Irrigated Class

1st: Ben Kron, Evansville, Ind., 390.7846 bushels per acre

Continuing what worked and tweaking what didn’t, Ben Kron returned to the top of the class in 2021 after finishing first in 2020. He says a new hybrid with trusted genetics, an adjustment in planting population and close attention to nutrient needs were factors in his success.

“I chose LG66C44-VT2PRIB, a 116-day hybrid from LG Seeds and a product of parents we previously used. I am very familiar with the genetics. The hybrid developed a strong root system and was productive on both our light, sandy soil and our heavy, black soil,” says Kron. “Based on experience, I was comfortable it would handle the variability.”

Cold weather held off planting until May 15, about a month later than he intended. “Last year, I planted 39,000 seeds/acre about the same time and didn’t quite make 400 bushels. I wanted to push this hybrid higher. I was pleased, although it wasn’t quite 400,” he says. “I don’t think I can take the population any higher than 41,000. In fact, I may drop it back some in 2022 because I think less density among the plants would help manage heat in the field.”

The southern Indiana growing season yielded timely rains and few too-hot days, which Kron says he was able to supplement with sprinkler irrigation. He ran the system less than the previous year but relied on it at night during a critical two-week dry period during grain fill to cool off the corn. Kron applied 0.5- to 0.6-inches of water two times per week.

Timely scouting also was an element of achievement for Kron. Waterhemp infestations from 2020 did not reappear and he stayed ahead of Gray Leaf Spot and Southern Rust relying on high disease scores from his hybrid and from a timely Veltyma fungicide application.

With the strip-till as his nutrient base, Kron’s fertility program included 445 pounds nitrogen, 200 pounds phosphorus and 500 pounds potash along with 50 pounds sulfur and 10 pounds each of boron and zinc. His goal was to maintain a consistent level of nutrients to the plants as they needed them, which he was able to do with regular tissue sampling. Nutrients were applied through Y-Drops five times during the season, along with a starter fertilizer application.

“I try and stay on top of what the crop will need before it needs it, and this year was no different,” Kron says. “I harvested November 17 and was happy with the results.” 

Key Takeaways 

  • Work with agronomists and other ag professionals that can guide management decisions
  • Continually scout your crops to gauge plant health and prevent loss of yield potential
  • Be proactive with choosing and applying fungicides before disease becomes a problem

2nd: Tom Rusler, Avondale, Colo., 348.4575 bushels per acre

Mother Nature was the number one input supporting Tom Rusler’s second place class finish in 2021. A near-perfect season from start to finish allowed his chosen hybrid to shine.

“We are DeKalb dealers, and the hybrid we planted, DEKALB DKC63-91RIB, was the top number in our plots in 2020 and performs well in irrigated fields,” says Rusler. The 113-day maturity stacked hybrid was planted May 2. The corn seed was treated with Acceleron and Poncho 250, but Rusler reported no early insects or disease threatened crop development. 

“We had good soil moisture at planting and timely rains all season,” he says, adding that their high-desert location generally gets only 11 inches of rain per year. “We had record moisture in our area for 2021. We had five inches of rain already at planting time.”

Rusler focuses on soil health by strip-tilling and planting cover crops to help preserve soil moisture and to slow erosion. He is also limited in irrigation water availability but was able this year to stick with his usual furrow irrigation schedule for corn, supplemented with the additional, and highly unusual, rain.

Fertilizer applications included 15 gallons of 10-34-0 as a starter fertilizer and 65 gallons of 32-0-0 UAN with a micronutrient package. The field was planted to pinto beans the previous season, with weed and disease pressure virtually nonexistent. 

“The hybrid really stood well late into the season with strong stalks and roots,” he says. “Mother Nature just allowed it to all fall in place with uninterrupted harvest weather.”

3rd: Creighton Peterson, Smithfield, Neb., 347.9264 bushels per acre

Creighton Peterson is a fresh face in the national contest winner’s circle. His yield of nearly 348 bu./acre qualifies for third place honors in this class.

For his contest entry, Peterson planted Channel 217-76VT2P on April 28. “It’s very productive,” he says. “And it also stands well. We had a major windstorm go through in July, and it held up pretty well.”

He planted at a rate of 34,500 seeds/acre. “Over our whole farm, we’ll usually plant at about 33,000 to 36,000,” he says. “We spend a lot of time trying to match up hybrids with soil types and planting rates. With some hybrids, the harder you push them, the worse they’ll do.”

Taking care to “get everything just right” at planting was another component of Peterson’s high yield strategy. “Our goal is to get every seed placed the same distance apart and at the same depth so that the plants come up within 24 hours of each other. If you don’t get it planted right, you’ll be losing yield right off the bat and you’ll never catch up.”

Two fungicide applications were also part of his game plan. He broadcast Aproach at V4, then followed up with an aerial application of Miravis Neo at tassel. “It keeps the plants healthy for longer into the growing season,” he says.

Non-Irrigated Class

1st: Harrison Rigdon, Jarrettsville, Md., 366.8270 bushels per acre

Harrison Rigdon knows plenty about TLC when it comes to growing corn, especially when it’s aimed at a yield competition. He’s entered the NCGA contest for 25 years and this year tops the class with a 366 bu./acre yield.

“I’m always pushing to hit that next level and like experimenting with new products and practices that we can use on our other acres,” he says. “I don’t always see benefits on what we try, but usually do about 20 percent of the time.”

On his silt loam soils he’s always paying attention to soil health and has implemented a rigorous cover crop program, regularly planting, wheat, rye and radishes. Some of the crops are used for spring grazing with their 125-head Anguscross cow-calf herd.

Rigdon works closely with his seed representative, reviews the farm’s yield history and studies company trials to help select hybrids. Also, he runs test plots on 10 to 12 new hybrids every year in conjunction with DeKalb. This year, he planted DEKALB DKC59-82RIB, a 109-day maturity hybrid. “It was the top yielder on our test plots last year, plus had excellent plant health and performance,” he adds.

His contest acres were planted May 7 with a John Deere 1770 16-row planter. He says the season started out wet and then got dry, but weekly rains kept the crop from getting stressed.

Ridgon’s crop nutrient program begins with a dry fertilizer application of 60-140-270 in the spring, then a burndown of 30 percent UAN and Lexar herbicide one week before planting. That is followed with a starter at planting and then three sidedress applications with 50 units of nitrogen at V4, V10 and V12.

Gray Leaf Spot and Northern Corn Blight can be troublesome, so Xyway fungicide is added to the starter at planting and Miravis Neo fungicide at a 13.7 ounce rate at V5, V10 and R1.

“We use fungicides to keep the plant as healthy and green as long as possible and have been using them the last 10 years,” Rigdon explains. “We’ve found we get a yield increase from fungicides three out of four years.”

Ridgon tissue sampled three times on the contest acres to check if the crop might be lacking any micronutrients. While he didn’t find any deficiencies, he’s sold on the tissue samples and plans to continue in the future.

“We spoon-feed contest acres and check them every week or so with our agronomist because he sometimes notices things we miss,” he says.

Key Takeaways

  • Apply multiple fungicide treatments to keep plants healthy
  • Make sure planter and combine are tuned to perfection
  • Plant slower for good seed-to-soil contact

2nd: Scott Truszkowski, Stewartsville, N.J., 341.8442 bushels per acre

Scott Truszkowski is carrying on the family tradition of entering the yield contest and placed second in this class with a yield just shy of 342 bu./acre.

“We grid sample our Washington loam soils every year to help us get more consistent yields,” he says. “We use variable rates when spreading fertilizer and know it saves us money. We take care of our soils and set yield goals to make sure we have the right nutrients.”

Chicken litter from a local operation 2 miles away makes up about half of his nitrogen needs and also helps cut commercial fertilizer bills in half.

Good planting conditions and getting the crop in early helped the corn plants get off to a vigorous start. “I’m a big believer in waiting for the right time to plant—not too cold or too wet—so you can get good stand uniformity.” Although a dry spell hit mid-summer, he still ended up with above-normal moisture.

Truszkowski works closely with his Nutrien crop consultant to select proven hybrids, like this year’s Dyna-Gro D55VC80RIB. “If he doesn’t know something, he’ll find out.”

Weekly tissue sampling starts when plants hit 2 inches tall. “If we’re lacking nutrients, we foliar feed right away. This year we added nutrients and micronutrients four times,” he says. Weed control includes a preemerge treatment of Atrazine and Resicore followed by Roundup. He also uses 15.2 ounces per acre of Xyway fungicide in-furrow at planting and at V5 applies 7 ounces per acre of Magistrate fungicide.

Next year? “I don’t see that we’ll make any big changes,” Truszkowski admits. “We’ll keep doing what we’re doing because it seems to be working.”

3rd: Darrell Hagan, Whitesville, Ky., 324.9635 bushels per acre

After a multi-year absence, Darrell Hagan is back on the national stage with a third place win in this category. The Kentuckian says he has been entering since 2000 because, “The contest helps me increase my overall yields every year—and I like to win.”

He planted Stewart Seeds 13DD360 hybrid with a 113-day maturity and at 40,000 seeds/acre to hit 325 bu./acre. “My farmer-dealer helped pick the hybrid, and did it shine this year,” Hagan exclaims.

He got a jump on planting and pulled into the field on March 30, then hit a cold, damp spell for two weeks. “May was wet and then we ran into a hot, dry August, but yields were good. We harvested in mid-September in wonderful conditions.”

Hagan applied 150 units of anhydrous in March, then followed with in-row starter at planting and two more side-dress nitrogen applications at V7 and V10, for a total of 250 units. “We tissue-sampled five times and that led us to our last nitrogen application.”

He applied a preplant Roundup burndown at 28 ounces per acre and a postemerge treatment of Atrazine at 2 pounds per acre. Also, he went with two fungicide applications—7 ounces of Veltyma at V10 and 8 ounces of Revytech at R1. “I’m sold on fungicides, especially since Southern Rust was severe and could have cost us a 20 to 40 bushel per acre yield loss this year.”

Next year he plans to look more closely at his fertility program and start using a nitrogen stabilizer.

Click here for more Strip-Till News.