David Hula (Charles City, Va.), Alex Harrell (Leesburg, Ga.) and Richie Malone (Arion, Iowa) placed top 3 in the 2023 National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) Corn Yield Contest in the strip-till, minimum-till, mulch-till, ridge-till irrigated category. The 3 strip-tillers shared their winning strategies in the 2023 NCGA Winners Corn Yield Guide.

1st Place: David Hula, 623.8439 Bushels Per Acre 

Having returned to Renwood Farms from several weeks of Total Acre meetings and winding down from a successful duck hunt with his son before Christmas, David Hula welcomed a holiday slow-down from a hectic schedule.

When Hula talks about his fifth world corn yield record, he speaks of a systems approach and checking boxes.

One-acre grid soil samples: check. Soil pH in line: check. Picking the right hybrid: check. Optimize planter for best emergence and singulation: check. Manage nutrients based on yield expectations throughout the season: check. Weekly tissue testing and scouting to feed and protect the crop: check.

As the only farmer to break the 600-bushel mark (2019, 2021 and 2023) in the corn yield contest, Hula knows he must feed the crop. He understands that every bushel of corn requires specific nutrients, yet it takes a balance of fertilizer and biological activity to accomplish such a task. While many would view his low CEC of 2.1 to 6.7 as a challenge, he believes it's a benefit.

To get enough yield to break 600 bushels, Hula strives for 10 bushels per acre per 1,000 seeds. He seeded a new Pioneer P14830VYHR hybrid at 48,700 plants per acre on May 5 in 30-inch rows.

"We realized something was special after seeing the corn emerge, checking root growth and viewing the first tissue sample results," Hula says.

Their fertility program begins by banding nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium, sulfur, zinc and a phosphate uptake enhancer with their Environmental Tillage Systems Soil Warrior strip-till rig. On the planter, Hula applied a starter with heavy-duty deep placement of nitrogen, phosphorous, zinc, boron, sulfur nutrient enhancers and biologicals.

One of Hula's most significant changes in the last 7 or 8 years is placing biological products with the seed.

"We're seeing good results with ROI Biologicals' Relay product and Brandt's EnzUp ZN to get the corn off to a great start," he says. 

Hula wants that first tissue sample to show strong phosphate levels because that usually means everything else is good.

"My agronomist Paul Bodenstein and I strive to keep nutrient levels balanced. With our tissue sampling history spanning 3 decades, we understand the value of staying ahead of the plant's uptake curve," Hula says.

Overall, Hula was impressed with the hybrid's ability to support additional ears, stay green at 24% moisture and produce a 66.1 pound test weight. But mostly, he attributes his systems approach and God's blessings to achieve this record on a different farm from his previous records. 

2nd Place: Alex Harrell, 401.9412 Bushels Per Acre 

After just setting the world soybean yield record (206.7 bushels per acre) in August, Harrell cracked the 400 bushels corn mark on a strip-till field to cap a great season. 

"To begin with, we had good weather this year, including a big rain event in June," Harrell says. "It was warm but not overly hot during pollination, plenty of sunshine and cool nights — a recipe for good crops."

A firm believer in cover crops for soil health and erosion control, this pivot-irrigated field had black oats, wheat, triticale and radishes seeded in the fall. Harrell terminates them with his spring burndown herbicide application before stripping and planting.

He chose a new Dekalb DKC68-95 hybrid based on their seed rep's recommendations.

"They knew we wanted to push it, and at a 42,000 population under high yield management, it performed well," Harrell says.

His low CEC sandy soils with less than 1% organic matter requires attention to detail for top yields. This corn-on-corn field began with 4 tons of chicken litter, followed by liquid fertilizer at planting and 3 Y-Drop applications.

An avid weekly tissue tester, Harrell pulls samples on Monday and adapts his drone spray schedule based on what the crop needs.

"We foliar feed several times a season and make multiple applications of PGRs, fungicides and micronutrients, as we fight our biggest challenges from stink bugs and southern rust." 

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3rd Place: Richie Malone, 377.8088 Bushels Per Acre 

Learning from mentors has always been a hallmark of the NCGA yield contest. Richie Malone is no exception, as he works with his neighbor Kelly Garrett, sharing expertise, equipment and agronomic advice.

This strip-till corn-on-corn field survived the drought thanks to subsurface drip irrigation and weekly soil and leaf sap testing to spoon-feeding nutrients. 

Malone was pleased with how Pioneer P1170AM responded to numerous inputs. Seeded at 39,000 plants per acre on May 1, the field received 195 pounds per acre of nitrogen — 60% was applied annhydrous, 10% at planting and 30% through drip irrigation. In the fall, a soybean by-product Plant Food from Feed Energy is broadcast applied, providing phosphorous and sulfur nutrition.

2 liquid systems on the planter allow for 2-x-2 placement of AgroLiquid nitrogen and sulfur products and Xyway fungicide. A custom blend of 9 products are applied in-furrow including micronutrients, insecticide, PGR, humic and fulvic acids and several products that aid plant uptake and nutrient availability. 

Malone and an agronomist strive to ensure the crop is never short of calcium, zinc and micronutrients. The weekly soil and leaf sap tests provide data on what's available in the soil and what the plant is taking up and drives what nutrients are added to the drip line.

A sidedress application occurs at R1, and a fungicide is flown on after tassel.

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