By Carroll Smith
This is not a “how-to-grow-corn” article but rather a look at one farmer’s experiment with out-of-the-box thinking to try to find a way to get more units of production from an acre of land. Last year, Jay Hardwick, who operates a diversified farm near Newellton, La., decided to doublecrop 150 acres of corn with milo and follow the crop all the way through harvest to gauge the potential of this type of cropping system.
He began by studying three years’ worth of historical weather – particularly heat units/DD50s – for the area, and on July 29, Hardwick harvested his milo, ran the shredder behind the combine and planted corn behind the shredder.
“When one starts dealing with the fringes of normal planting dates, it’s a risk environment that you have to manage very tightly, recognizing that it has a high potential for failure in a lot of ways,” he says. “However, it also has a high potential for gleaning information that you wouldn’t get otherwise if you didn’t venture that way.”
Doublecropped Corn Meets Variety Of Challenges
Here’s what happened during Hardwick’s experimental “extreme planting” corn production season that spanned a period of time from July 29, 2008 to Jan. 12, 2009.
First, the heat units in late July were averaging 30 or 31 compared to five or six that is typical for a normal planting date in March. Consequently, the corn grew quite rapidly, (80+ inches tall), and yields looked promising in the beginning. Then the hurricanes came in, and the heat units dropped to 19 and 20 because of the cloud cover.
“When it cooled off, we lost a lot of energy for the corn to try to maintain this rapid pace to get to black layer or dry down before our normal freeze date of Nov. 1,” Hardwick says. “That put us behind, but September wasn’t really hot, and we thought we had about a 100+ bushel average at that time.”
Unfortunately, the crop was caught by a freeze that put the corn in a suspended state of 30 percent moisture. It wouldn’t dry down, which led to other challenges, such as tremendous insect pressure, blackbird damage and the foraging of all types of wildlife from black bears to raccoons.
“It wasn’t until after the first of the year, about Jan. 12, that we were able to harvest that corn at 18 percent moisture,” Hardwick says. “It was a learning experience, but yieldwise, it was a disaster. We averaged a little over 30 bushels per acre and test weights were running 47 instead of 60. The value to me is in what I learned. The experiment also required me to become more in tune with corn physiology.”
Potential Wheat/Corn Experiment In ’09
Hardwick says that although the end results were pretty meager, his corn after milo experiment doesn’t discourage him from pursuing the extreme planting strategy in another limited way. The Louisiana farmer has abandoned the idea of planting corn behind milo because it’s just too late in the year; however, he is considering planting some corn behind wheat in the first week of July.
“Planting corn behind wheat provides a three- or four-week opportunity to address any field problems that may have arisen and do things such as side-dressing fertilizer that you would normally do to enhance the crop’s ability to produce,” Hardwick says. “Plus, picking up those extra three weeks would help the crop beat the freeze date and hopefully position the corn to where pollination would happen during the first part of September, which could be similar to the first part of June type weather.”
The real take-home message goes back to looking for ways to get more units of production from an acre of land. And those ways may include doublecropping, irrigating and perhaps, in some cases, even growing three crops in a year and a half.
For this long-term school of thought to be successful, efforts beyond just the production side must be made. For example, long-term – three-, five or even 10-year – leases and financing may become more common to allow farmers to achieve and benefit from long-term goals.
“I’m not saying every acre has to be doublecropped because the soil needs to rest after being intensely farmed,” Hardwick says. “But, I think that we as producers have to have our own ‘experimental component’ to push these fringes. Keep your eyes wide open and pay attention to the proliferation of ideas that can come with these endeavors.”
Contact Carroll Smith at (901) 767-4020 or firstname.lastname@example.org