CHARLOTTE — A DowDupont hat. A lime-green Pioneer polo shirt. Muddied boots.
If this were your first time meeting Donald Stall, then you’d think he was a walking advertisement for Pioneer seed products.
But this sixth-generation Charlotte farmer isn’t about pomp and circumstance, he’s about competition and return on investment (ROI) on his 2,000-acre operation of corn and soybeans.
That’s why, since 2003, he’s participated in the NCGA corn yield contest, an annual competition among U.S. corn growers that highlights the genetic yield potential of modern corn hybrids. Currently, the contest features six corn production classes, including non-irrigated, no-till/strip-till non-irrigated, irrigated and no-till/strip-till irrigated classes.
Stall’s 477.7 bushels per acre for irrigated corn, the highest yield of all participants in the 2018 NCGA contest, was satisfying, sure, but also “surprising,” he told Michigan Farm News this week.
“It’s fun to compete,” Stall said. “I mean, to put my management skills up against everybody else’s in the country — that’s kind of why we went into it. We were kind of surprised: We didn’t expect the yield to be as good as it was. … Each of the last two years, we thought the weather would hurt us. But when we put the combine in the field — we were really surprised and, obviously, really happy.”
In Eaton County, Stall said the average yield for corn is about 165 bushels per acre. To get to almost 500 bushels per acre, the 57-year-old said it starts with a “good team.”
“My Pioneer team — I used them to help me pick out the products,” Stall said, adding that he also utilizes Pioneer’s Encirca Services on all of his corn and soybean acres. “They help me get the right product on the right acre. We use a lot of their test plots and our local test plots to determine which varieties work best for us. Other than that, it’s just attention to detail. Agronomy is a big issue, of course. We want the availability of nutrients there when the crop needs it.
“From there, we just water and tissue test, and we adjust as tissue tests show us that we need to.”
Stall planted the winning plot on May 1, with a planting population of 49,500 seeds. Of those seeds, he harvested 48,500, “which is unheard of.”
“To get that, a lot of things have to go right,” Stall said. “It’s not just about the planter. … A couple of years ago, I would have told you 500 bushels was impossible in Michigan. I (would have) told you 400 bushels is impossible, but we surpassed that goal, so, obviously, … 500 bushels is going to be the goal for our yield.”
He added that “we do split applications of nutrients, (and) we based a lot of that off tissue tests.”
In 2018, Stall did four split applications of 28 percent — two side-dress trips with a colter cart at V2 and V4-5, and two more passes with the RoGator at V6-8 and V10-12. He would like to do a fifth pass if his applicator is tall enough to allow it.
According to Stall, irrigation has paid off in more ways than one — his calculations show a ROI of more than $900 an acre.
“To get to 477 (bushels per acre), it’s not easy,” Stall said. “It’s a lot of work. We got to farm the crop the entire season. We don’t plant it, feed it and forget it until harvest; I mean, we farm it throughout the summer.”
According to Stall, “you have to have your base saturations up there, you’ve got to have balance, and you’ve got to have the nutrients available when the crop is demanding it.
“We do a lot of variable-rate application of fertilizer,” he said. “Everything is grid sampled. Our irrigated (crop) is grid sampled every year, (and) our non-irrigated (crop) is grid sampled every two years. (With) irrigated, we sample at 1-acre grids, and we apply it that way because our soils are so variable here.”
In a statement last month, Pioneer noted that the NCGA awarded seven national and 189 state awards to growers using its products. For Stall, he used Pioneer hybrid P0574AM seed.
“Advances in our corn research program are bringing a higher rate of genetic gain to customers,” Judd O’Connor, president of U.S. Commercial Business at Corteva Agriscience™, the agriculture division of DowDuPont, said in a statement. “This, combined with increased local testing, is helping farmers achieve maximum productivity.”