A few months back, I wrote about the strong mentorships we often see in the strip-till community. Most strip-tillers I’ve met are more than willing to talk about their trials and tribulations.
Smithville, Ga., strip-tiller Alex Harrell learned a thing or two from one of his mentors, Randy Dowdy, when Dowdy set the soybean yield record with 190.23 bushels per acre in 2019. It’s no coincidence that one of Dowdy’s tips for growing high-yielding crops is to always share what you learn.
“There’s nothing wrong with building a network of trust and sharing information with one another about what works and what doesn’t work because all of us still have more to learn,” Dowdy says. “We shouldn’t have to be learning this all by ourselves.”
“Randy Dowdy truly set the bar and gave me something to chase,” Harrell says. “He made me realize that it was possible to achieve record yields here in Georgia.”
Motivated by his mentor’s success, Harrell formulated what he calls the perfect plan for chasing high-yielding soybeans, with an assist from his crop consultant and fellow strip-tiller, Caleb Traugh of Blakely, Ga.
It started after corn harvest last fall when Harrell planted a 4-way cover crop mix of triticale, cereal rye, oats and daikon radish. He used a Schlagel Rapid Till to make strips 10 inches deep right over the cover crop ground in early April, 3 weeks after terminating the cover crops. He planted soybeans in 30-inch rows at a seeding rate of 85,000 a couple days after making the strips.
“It’s a systems approach,” Harrell says. “There’s no silver bullet, just a lot of good products applied at the right time, and a lot of good weather. One rain event at the wrong time could’ve ruined it.”
A packing rain hit Harrell’s farm shortly after planting, resulting in a final stand of 77,000. Mother Nature threw another setback at the crop with a 10-day flooding rain in early June. But Harrell stayed the course, making only a few alterations when weekly tissue samples revealed specific nutrient demands.
“The packing rain hurt our stand off the bat, and the 15-inch rainfall over 10 days in June didn’t help matters either,” Harrell says. “Fortunately, right after the rain, it was hot and sunny, and everything dried up. We have spraying drones, so we were able to keep spraying throughout those rain events to keep the crop pumped up and growing.”
Harrell predicted a yield of at least 150 bushels per acre initially. But as the season progressed with ideal weather, he knew something extraordinary was growing.
His “perfect plan” came to fruition late in the summer with an astonishing, world record-breaking yield of 206.7997 bushels per acre. After celebrating the record with his dad, Harrell wanted to personally break the news to his mentor.
“Unfortunately, Randy was undergoing open heart surgery at the time, so I wasn’t able to talk to him,” Harrell says. “But his wife called to congratulate me and let me know Randy was doing well in recovery.”
Harrell credits much of his success to Dowdy’s pay-it-forward approach. Judging from Harrell’s willingness to pick up the phone and answer all our questions, I’d say it won’t be long until Harrell has a strip-till mentee of his own, if he doesn’t already.