How To Become A Yield Master With John Brien And Dustin Bowling

How To Become A Yield Master
With John Brien And Dustin Bowling


The drought of 2012, the late planting of 2019 and 2020, the low yields on your best fields, low market prices, or high nitrogen costs are all situations that are out of our control. It’s how we react to these situations and experiences that will shape our perspective on how we manage for more bushels. Welcome to the Yieldmaster’s Podcast. In this initial episode, Todd Steinacher brings on John Brien, the Eastern Agronomy Manager, and Dustin Bowling, the Western Agronomy Manager. AgriGold has been helping growers achieve maximum results with their corn crop for 84 years. John and Dustin get down on how you can truly improve your yield and increase your profit. They also share some of the typical challenges that some of their customers face.

Listen to the podcast here:

How To Become A Yield Master With John Brien And Dustin Bowling

Through our time together, I will take you on a series of deep dives into agronomic topics that can highlight yield-limiting situations. It’s my goal to bring you concepts from industry-leading agronomist and fellow yield master farmers to help improve our collective understandings of yield-limiting events and situations. Can we be more proactive in controlling the controllable to improve yield? Since 2015, I’ve been a regional agronomist with AgriGold servicing West Central Illinois. Farmers that I work with are heavily influenced by two rivers and several different soil types. Whether you’re from Illinois, Missouri, Ohio, Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana, Kansas, Minnesota, Dakotas, Arkansas, Kentucky, Tennessee or even Georgia, we all have yield-limiting events and situations. We have a desire to learn and grow more bushels profitably. Hopefully, that is what brought you to this show.

At the end of the day, it’s our experiences that shape us as people and how we evaluate a situation and overcome them. Whether it’s the drought of 2012, the late planting of 2019 and 2020, the low yields on your best fields, low market prices and high nitrogen costs. These are all situations that are out of our control, but it’s how we react to these situations and experiences that will shape our perspective, and how we manage for more bushels. Every year, farmers ask their fields to produce more bushels than the season before. Before we can truly grow more bushels, we must understand all the limitations of a given crop for a given field on a given farm for a given season. Once we have truly understood these limitations, it’s the moment that we can truly understand how to be more proactive to minimize yield impacts. Once you’ve started down this journey, you are now a yield master.

Our episode guests are John Brien, Eastern Agronomy Manager who lives in Ohio and Dustin Bowling, Western Agronomy Manager who lives in Missouri. Both John and Dustin are AgriGold Regional Agronomists in their respected areas. Both of them now manage larger regions. They both support an Agronomy Team and provide high-level agronomic supports to their regional customers and farmers. Let’s get started with John Brien first. John, could you tell us a little about yourself and the regional area that you cover?

Thanks, Todd. My name is John Brien. I’ve been with AgriGold for many years, in the Agronomy Department. I originally started as an agronomist in Ohio and Northern Indiana. I moved to Ohio solely for several years and have joined the Eastern Agronomy Manager position. That has given me a great opportunity to expound upon what I learned out in the field. The area that I cover is everything from the Mississippi to the East Coast. I cover from Minnesota all the way down to Florida. It is a large area that gives me a lot of unique opportunities and a lot of challenges there as well. I am a father of five boys. They keep me busy on the off-hours, but it’s an important part of my life as well. I’ve been solely focused on the AgriGold and agronomic for many years.

Thanks for the insight, John. Dustin, tell us a bit about yourself and the region that you cover.

My name is Dustin Bowling. I’m the Western Agronomy Manager for AgriGold. I joined the AgriGold Agronomy Team in 2011. Before that, I did eight years of ag retail helping growers solve problems through fertility advice, through chemistry programs, as well as seed, GPS and digital agriculture. When I joined AgriGold, I joined as the Missouri Eastern Kansas and Southern Iowa Agronomist. Since that time, AgriGold has experienced a great amount of growth in the West. In 2016, I took on the role of Western Agronomy Manager. Now, I work with our agronomy teams, our salesforce, and our customers in agriculture footprint at West of the Mississippi, Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, Western Minnesota and Dakotas. My wife and two daughters live in a rural part of North Central Missouri near the town of Chillicothe. They keep me busy as well on the off time there.

Thanks, Dustin. For people joining us on this show, it’s about improving yields and how to obtain greater yields and profit. To me, before we can increase yields, we’ve got to understand some of the regional challenges and then manage towards these challenges. John, in your greater area, the states that you cover, what are some of the typical challenges that some of your customers face?

The diversity that we have makes that a challenging question. As you move to the Eastern Corn Belt and Eastern Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, trying to get the crop planted is a huge challenge. April and May tend to be cold and wet, and we have very few windows. If we do get a nice window, we’re not guaranteed in the next two weeks that it will be cold and wet, and a high amount of replanting. Getting the crops started is a huge challenge. As you move to the Mid-South and South, you got the same challenges there in the spring. Heavy rain events have hindered that environment there. The biggest challenge I have in my world is getting a crop planted established and getting off to a great start.

John, for the most part, we know planting as early as we can set us up to have a good stand for optimum yield. As you talk with your growers about these challenges to get the crop up and knowing that we have some of these wet challenge in springs, what are some things that you’ve seen work or that you would advise a grower as they make that decision to take the planter to the field or not?

I am a huge advocate for early planting. In 2020, that has proven successful again. The earlier we can plant a crop, whether it be corn or soybeans, the better chance we have for longer greenfield, better stress tolerance in the growing season. There are several rules that I continue to preach and talk about when it comes to planting early. That is in the month of May, I’m a huge fan of mudding in corn. When I say mudding in corn, I get a lot of looks, a lot of frustrations, and a lot of, “You’re crazy,” but if you stop and think about planting in April, rainfall is not an issue. As long as the ground is moist, those roots are going to be compacted in the root zone where they’re able to grow out of that and continue to grow.

If it’s on the damp side in April, I’m planting corn. Once I hit the 1st of May though, I stop that and I wait for good planting conditions because I never know what kind of weather we’re going to have in May. The other thing that I tell growers, the key to this is to plant into a warming trend. One of the challenges we have is as you’re deciding whether or not you should be planting corn or even planting beans, you tend to wait until the weather is nice. The soils are warm and the weather is nice, then most growers start planting. Unfortunately, we only usually have a 5 to 7-day window to do these crops. If you happen to plant those on the last couple of days of that window, we might hit a cold wet period. You get real sporadic emergence and have a loss of stand.

Whereas if you start when it’s not fit, not warm, and not ideal and you’re able to get the crop planted effectively, as you’re planting in that warming trend, you are giving those seeds a chance to get established in weather and whatever comes along with it. When I think about planting early, I am pushing the envelope on soils and on temperature. Temperature doesn’t mean anything to me. Year 2020 proved that you could plant in 30-degree weather. As long as it’s relatively dry, that crops would grow. Pushing the envelope on soils and temperature are my keys to the success in planting early.

Take a little bit deeper dive into that. As that window gets smaller of year to plant our crop and farm sizes are getting bigger, we got to get more done in a shorter amount of time. If we are planting into a challenging condition where emergence might be delayed or hampered. We know that we need to have good viable ears, would you suggest to increase in those populations a little bit or doing something to make sure we got a better seed to soil contact, so we’ve got more viable emerge plants that come up that’s going to produce a marketable year?

My general trend with that is I don’t want to push the populations too much more, maybe 1,000 or 2,000 more, but that’s insignificant. If I’m planning into challenging environments and I’m not sure what the emergence and what is going to happen from this point on, my recommendation to growers is to maybe park the corn planter and rev up that bean planter. Beans have more tolerance to stress early on in the growing season than corn does. If I need to wait for a little better window for corn, then I can focus my efforts there. I would almost say let’s switch crops instead of reaching that higher population because stand is important.

John, you brought up a great topic right there. With all the challenges, even with the late planting in 2019, I did see a lot of guys lead the corn planter shed and get a lot of the soybeans planted a lot sooner. There are a lot of people who saw that as well. It’s not how we do things but to me, if you understand the biology of the corn-soybean plant, the agronomic risks associated with it, maybe it’s worth doing something slightly different to hit higher yields. Thanks for bringing that to our attention. Dustin, let’s jump over to the Western side. Tell us a little about some of the challenges that you face across your territory that you try to help support your customers with?

We certainly have a lot of challenges similar to what John and the Eastern Corn Belt do. We often have our challenging springs and our wet moments and things. By far, Ohio takes the cake for wet soils. As I think of the Western Corn Belt or as we start to cross West of the Mississippi, it seems like we get a big opportunity to help our growers through challenges midseason. As the wind comes off those Rocky Mountains, we get a lot more green snap. We get a lot more potential for stock lodging and route lodging. It gives us an opportunity as agronomic advisors to do a lot of pre-work, making sure that our customers are putting their best foot forward when it comes to genetic diversity, and making sure they plant a package of hybrids that can withstand some of these challenges. We help them manage some of that risk.

After crazy event has come through like hail, we get a lot of hail as well. How do we go out there and assess that crop? What kinds of tools and management advice can we recommend as agronomic advisors to help them still get the most out of that crop, or whether or not they need to replant and do something different? When I think of coming across and coming to the West, it’s those midseason challenges. We’re reminded of that as we’ve seen in the big event there in August of the derecho that came across. That’s devastating. It’s once in several year event. Hopefully, we don’t see that again soon, but it is a good example of some of the things that our corn growers do face as we come out into the Western territory.

If we think about growing corn at least from Illinois, sometimes we don’t think how movement across the Rocky Mountain is dipping back down into the flat area and does have impacts on it. Here in Central Illinois, we do have green snap and other situations, but probably not to the degree that you’re facing there with that regional structure that causes some challenges there. Thanks for bringing that to our light. Dustin, you did reference from a green snap standpoint. As we strive for higher yields, you’re probably going to push some pops in situations. We’re probably going to be putting more nitrogen out there. We’ve got a bigger robust planting early accumulating a lot of GDUs.

We have a plant that’s growing fast. Those inner nodes are stretched a little bit. As we’re shooting for higher yields, we’re almost building a system that might be growing fast. We think about certain hybrids that grow fast and might have some of those challenges. If you have a grower in these parts of the country that are worried about the green snap coming off of some of those winds and we’re shooting for higher yields, it almost seems like we’re setting up a potential challenge. How do you advise a grower in those areas? How do we get higher yields, but yet don’t bring on more risk at the same time?

It’s in that planting and prep phase. It’s looking at those genetic packages. There are certain hybrids that have bigger windows for green snap potential versus others. One of our top Western products for high yield is a product called 6544. It happens to have one of the best green snap ratings that we can give because it is a product that can grow quickly. It can put on a lot of yields, but it also tassels relatively quick compared to other 113, 114-day type products. There are also other products out there like 6499 has been a fantastic product all over the country, even in the West, but it’s a little bit more sensitive to green snap. It has a little bit bigger window.

Genetic selection can be one of the main players in how you manage risk around a green snap. The other thing is re-evaluating your nitrogen program. We’ve got a lot of hybrids that use a lot of nitrogen late into the season. If you can get a hybrid to go ahead and tassel, it changes its mindset from vegetative growth to, “Now I have to build a system, a support structure that can support a big yield.” It starts to stiffen up all those inner nodes from the bottom up. If you can start to delay another pass of the feeding of nitrogen to after tassel, it helps that grain fill period get a little bit extended and fill that nitrogen a little bit later into the season. You can take a little bit of green snap risk out by doing that and dividing up your nitrogen passes rather than putting 300 pounds on with anhydrous right out of the gate.

We’ve all learned over the last several years that it is important to manage corn on the front side, but there’s so much yield that’s vulnerable after tasseling and pollination. The growers who find success with higher yields through higher management and challenging themselves and pushing the envelope are looking at how can they extend the grain fill piece of it. Nitrogen management, plant health, low and respiration, all these things play into it. As you said, knowing your hybrid potentials and the risk rewards associated and managing to it. That’s a great insight on that topic. Let’s shift gears slightly guys. Across a majority of our territories, harvest is starting to wind down. We can see the USDA reports. There are some states still actively going. Some are nearing the end, but for the most part, what is harvest looking like for you guys in your respective territories?

In the East, we’re quickly wrapping up the harvest. As you get to the Mississippi and start moving East, the harvest is completed. In a lot of areas in Central Illinois, Southern Illinois, and the mid-South, our corn harvest is complete. I know mid-bean harvest is finishing up in the Deep South, which is odd. They do their crop rotation a little bit different. They plant their corn, they plant their cotton, and then they plant their beans. It’s a little bit different rotation there than what we’re used to here in the Midwest. Usually, the beans were the last thing they harvest down there. They’re working on those diligently. As you move to the East to Northern Indiana, even Southern Indiana and Ohio, we’re wrapping up harvest now. We’ve been given a beautiful window here about ten days of no rain and sunshine. I would expect by the end of ten days, we will rapidly get completed the harvest. That’s been a real blessing there.

As we get starting into November and moving closer to December, Mother Nature is never guaranteed that she’s going to cooperate with us. It’s always a challenge to get the crop out, especially as we have a real long and good growing season. It’s good for grain fill, but sometimes it can create some challenges at harvest. That is something we have to manage as well. Let’s jump into the West. Dustin, what’s harvest looking like in your neck of the woods?

We’ve had what I would call a scorching pace on harvest when you start to go West of the Mississippi. Several of those states, particularly when you look at Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, had some record-setting, planting pace. We’ve also had a relatively above-average GDU accumulation for those states throughout the entire season as well. It’s led to some early harvest. You combine that with 30 to 40-day runs of no moisture and these farmers can get a lot done out in the field. Whenever I look at Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, Minnesota, and the Dakotas, as of November 1st, those states were 85% done with corn and 91% done with soybeans. You look at that versus a five-year average. Those states are usually only about 57% done. We’re trending well above normal for harvest pace now. A great example of that is looking at North Dakota. On November 1st, 2019, North Dakota has only 9% done with harvest. They had a terrible weather pattern. Their harvest drag out into the spring of 2020. They’re 84% done with the harvest on corn. As you can bet, some of those families are going to have some cheerful Thanksgivings in 2020 versus 2019. All in all, harvest in the West has been good.

That’s great to hear, Dustin. As you guys think about harvest wrapping up across the greater footprint, there are always those performance stories or success stories that we didn’t think we’d capture or see. As agronomists, there are things we find of a trial or something that blows you away with, “I’m happy this yield the way it did,” whether it be a hybrid or splitting nitrogen or making a recommendation for fungicide. Does either of you two have one of those success performance stories that you’d like to share?

I don’t know if it’s quite a performance story, but it goes back to one of my agronomists who was working closely with some growers. They’re trying to maximize their yields. They have been working at this for several years. This particular agronomist in Kentucky was getting mind-boggling, why were they hitting a ceiling on yield? They had beautiful conditions, great growing environments, great windows, but they weren’t necessarily getting the limits of yields that they were wanting to have. He went out and did a little trial and looking at the flag test. This is a test that Randy Dowdy introduced to the industry. That’s going out every twelve hours and putting the flag on the ones that emerged, and then coming back to harvest in those years.

What this agronomist found, and it was a huge eye-opener for the grower as well, was the first emergers in the first twelve hours, those plants average 285 bushels to the acre. It is a huge yield. The second emergers were twelve hours later when they came out of the ground. They average 251 bushels. There was a 34-bushel loss between the first and second emerging crop in a matter of twelve hours. The third emerger, this would be only 36 hours away, had a 67-bushel loss. Those late bloomers that were 48 hours behind showed a 161-bushel loss. The numbers are staggering on the importance of having a uniform emergence when it comes to these guys chasing these high yields. I would say that it was a big a-ha moment for us here in the East.

John, I appreciate that concept because I’ve done flag tests myself. I’ve had the conversations with growers, whether we’re trying to increase yields on a field even down to the plant level. We’re not going to take these great zones and make them super great. We’re going to increase yields by taking average areas managing through the situation and bringing them up better. In that very situation, we’re not going to take great plants and make them better. We’re going to take average plants and make them great. It’s all the decisions that we can do to go back to have a more uniform emergence and have more viable marketable ears. To me, that is truly a great foundation and a great tool to understand why we’re not hitting the yields that we are wanting to get. Thanks for your insight. Dustin, do you have anything to add to that?

I’ve got one a-ha moment for myself and I’ve got one success story I’d like to share around soybeans. The big a-ha moment for me was one of our precommercial research trial plots in Southeast Iowa. There was a tremendous amount of rainfall in June, perfect stands, and a good environment in July. Part of the way through July, the water shut off. We had excellent ear lines. We had excellent kernel counts, but then when that Western drought pocket in Iowa spread into Southeast Iowa, we had a lot of people given up on corn and given up on their management and things like that. We did tours through this plot. We looked at the plot. The stock quality was starting to degrade. I missed guessed.

I don’t usually miss too bad when guessing in yields, but I was off 80 to 100 bushels when the final yield results came through. There was corn in that plot that average 260 bushels. I guessed 180 to 220-type bushel environment. The big a-ha moment for me is if you’ve got the perfect flag test, even ear line and kernel counts, don’t let a few blips stop you from going ahead and putting that fungicide on. In that instance, it could have meant a whole lot faster harvest time and the bushels were there. That was the big thing that hit me.

For a success story of being an agronomist and being an advisor and working with growers that want to improve, I have a good friend, almost like family. You guys have a family that you farm with and things like that. You know how hard it is to convince those guys that are closest to you to try something new. I convinced a good friend of mine to try to extend soybeans in the area where we live. There are a lot of other trait packages that take precedence, but I convinced him that the genetics, the germplasm, the yield that he’s looking for his farm are in the AgriGold extended bag. We got him to try that. We worked closely together throughout the season, particularly around the planting date. We have planted these soybeans there at the end of April when everyone else was doing a little bit of corn.

We had enough heat units in a two-day run to let that soybean seed imbibe some water above 50 degrees and get a good stand. We then worked together throughout the season. We did a few different foliar passes. We didn’t set any big national or state records, but we set a new personal best on that farm. Being an ag advisor or being an agronomist and working with yield masters like my buddy that’s willing to take the time and work together and learn, that’s what it’s all about. That’s my success story that I would like to share.

I appreciate that insight. One of the things that I pulled away from what you said. If we are going to shoot for higher yields, we must learn why we’re using certain products. We’ve got to learn how they impact the corn or soybean crop. Some people might drive up down the fields or roads to see corn and beans. From an agronomist standpoint and a farmer in the yield master category, we see a biology. We see a whole system of factory. When we see diseases out there, how can we offset that? If we’ve got that pickets aligning and we can say, “Yes.” I’ve got confidence that I need to use a fungicide during pollination to mid grain fill to protect the plant derm respiration issues to finish that out.

I know there are a lot of things in the market that we can use to preserve yield, but it goes back to taking the time to understand how a corn and soybean plant grows, how it develops yield, and how yield is lost, but then knowing how to use all these products. That’s where it comes back to working with a good local advisor that can help you think outside the box. It’s a good segue way into this next question. This show is all about yield masters from a farmer’s standpoint. For the most part, our agronomy team and our agronomists are willing, able and ready to support agronomic thoughts, concepts and trials with any of our growers in this category. As you guys hear the word yield master or working with yield masters yourselves, what are some things that stand out that you feel makes somebody a yield master?

The term yield master was coined several years ago for the Agronomy Department because we had a group of growers who were thriving to do better. They were wanting to grow and raise the yield level. We’ve tried to figure out how can we help or identify this group. We came up with the term yield masters. What I find interesting is my definition of yield master is any grower who is willing and able to learn. It doesn’t matter yield levels. To me, a yield master could be somewhere in Kansas get a 120-bushel average. They could be in Central Illinois and have a 280-bushel average. The yield bushels don’t matter. It is that grower that is trying to learn, trying to do better, and is willing to share that with us and do it together. That to me what that yield master is. That could be on corn. That could be on soybeans, whatever crop. If they’re willing to do trials, willing to help us with tissue samples, share their experience, go above and beyond to help their operation grow and help our knowledge base grow, that to me is what a yield master.

I don’t think I could have said it better myself, but we’ll see if Dustin can.

To mirror what John said, it’s a grower that’s willing to grow their own knowledge. They’re willing to roll up their sleeves. They’re willing to put forth the time and energy to do something different. They are willing to partner up and work with an agronomist. Every grower wants bigger and better yields, but there are some growers out there that love the idea of a tissue testing program until they find out they have to jump into a field on a set of GDUs and have to do this 6 or 7 times. The key difference that separates a yield master out is they’re willing to learn, but they’re willing to roll up their sleeves and be a part of something bigger, jump into those fields themselves and take the time to try something different. That’s all I would add to John’s brilliant first introduction there.

Next time, I’ll give you the opportunity to go first and make him search for those words. You guys referenced a couple of projects that maybe some people are totally aware about. You did reference a flag test study and a tissue sample project. From an AgriGold agronomy standpoint, I know we do many agronomic projects. Maybe customers know about them or don’t. Can you guys give me a quick synopsis of some of the projects that are actively going on? With the project, how does that project increase yield or preserve yield? What can we gather from that project?

A couple of the agronomic projects that I’ve been heavily involved with, one is our seed treatment trials, particularly on our soybean seed. We have three different seed treatment options. Each year, we do a good job of getting those different seed treatment options out into the salesforce hands, so they can do different trials. We’ve got AgriShield Plus which is fungicide insecticide, AgriShield Max, which includes inoculant. In 2020, we introduced AgriShield Max with the addition of Saltro. Getting those types of treatments out there, letting our growers touch them, feel them, see those yields results firsthand in their own backyard, that helps them make some key decisions going into the next year. Right out of the gate, initial data is showing at least in some of the local trials that I’ve been working with, particularly in Missouri, we’re seeing a 7 to 8-bushel advantage with the addition of Saltro in 2020.

That’s several dollars that could be put to the bottom line for a grower and could help them preserve some yield in soybeans for the next year. Another fun agronomic trial that we’re started to pilot in Missouri and in Iowa is we partnered with a commercial drone applicator, a certified commercial pesticide applicator through the use of the drone. With the sole intention of are there some key products out there that do a better job of extending grain fill versus others, whether that be through fertility, micronutrients or different fungicides. We had about five locations that we were able to do this with. The initial data shows about a 10 to 20-bushel advantage from using any fungicide you can get on.

We had a fairly quick grain fill period in the West as you come West of the Mississippi River in 2020, a lot of extra heat units. We’ve had extra stresses around whether it be Southern rust, different diseases, but then also the lack of moisture has sped up our grain fill period. By having any fungicide, whether it was a generic or whether it was a name brand product, we have a 10 to 20-bushel advantage in this initial study. As technology changes and advances, the use of drones is going to open up a huge window for agronomic advisors like ourselves in AgriGold to help create some great answers to a lot of questions that growers have. Whether if a certain product is better than another or general management practices of, “Should I be doing two applications of fungicide?” We can start to explore those types of questions now that technology has caught up. Let us do it on a big scale.

John, what kind of projects are you working on these days?

The Eastern group has been focused heavily on the tissue sampling project that we’ve started since 2016. It is going out and tissue sampling growers fields to specific GDUs, and tracking that to yield. That’s been a very fascinating project that we’ve been knee-deep in. We worked with it internally for several years, 2020 is the first year that we’ve expanded it to the Yield Master Group. We have the agronomist working hand in hand with this Yield Master Group, going out and tissue sampling their fields, gaining the yield data, gaining the GDUs, coming back and putting that together in a useful format.

What that allows us to do is challenge our thinking. We’ve had these thoughts and these ideas about nutrients, nutrition with plants, fertility and how we do it and how it works. What we’re finding out with these tissue samples is there is an amazing amount of information we don’t know. We have assumed that we apply MAP, DAP, potash or whatever it may be on our soils, and our plants are picking that up. We’re finding out that is not necessarily the case. We’re assuming that we can put nitrogen on anytime we want and get the yield response we’re looking for. That is not necessarily the case there as well. We have crazy things called boron, copper, zinc, molybdenum, micronutrients that we’ve not focused on in the past that are showing huge benefits to yield. I would love to say that we have all the answers, but these are complex things that we’re trying to tackle here, but it’s a whole lot of fun.

When a grower can take their tissue samples compared to other growers tissue samples and see where they’re at and determine, “At 750 GDU, my potassium level was lower than what it should have been and my corn plant was not able to recover. How am I going to fix that next year? How am I going to keep that limiting factor from happening again?” The tissue sample has been a lot of fun and it gives us a great insight into what’s going on inside that plant. The other neat thing when it comes to this yield master program is it’s gaining awareness from other groups. We’ve partnered up with several other companies to look at their products and see how they affect the corn plant yield. We’re working with Nature’s on a small pilot project with some of our yield masters, trying to see if their program helps drive yield. If it does, when and how? That’s been a fun project. The other one was working with Envita, a nitrogen-fixing product that had been released. We’re taking a look at that as well. These yield masters projects aren’t just about our products. They’re also about helping growers find those yield limiting factors and eliminating them.

John, you and I’ve had this conversation multiple times. I’ve got a couple of customers doing the tissue sampling project. I’ve done it for the last couple of years just like some of the other people. What it did with the growers in 2020 was to highlight the fact that his system was set up good to front-load nutrients. What we found out once he got towards the backside of it, based on his soil types, we were lacking on the backloading from a nitrogen standpoint. We saw that because leading into grain fill, all of his levels were appropriate. We could find good levels in the soil. He did everything else textbook, but once grain fill starts to rapidly remobilize everything, we started to see the plant pull itself back.

When evaluating that, you could sit back and say, “We’re good on the front side but on the backside, we’re falling off.” We know that if we shorten grain fill too much, that’s where we’re going to be losing yield. That milk line comes down too aggressively. It allowed me the opportunity to have a conversation with the grower on how can we better manage the backside of your fertility programs to make this work. If I had not had the opportunity to have these tissue samples with me, the grower and I could not have had that high-level conversation. We probably would say, “That nitrogen on the front side didn’t work. It’s not a good product.” This project specifically does a good job of opening our eyes and showing us what maybe some of these limiting factors are. We can chase some of these. Maybe they’re not the most limiting factor, but at least it’s giving us a roadmap of where to go.

What’s interesting is I can remember growing up with my dad, my grandpa and neighbors. It would rain in August and that’s where crops are made, we’re there. That’s been the mindset for a lot of growers. The studies that you have done and that Josh Johnson in Kentucky has done have demonstrated that when your corns are at three quarter milk line, most everyone would say, “The yield is made.” We have found that you still have about 25% of your yield to build. That’s a huge amount of bushels if you stop and think about 25% of your yield. How do we keep that grain field going? As long as we can. How do we keep that plant nutritionally fed? How do we keep it alive? As Dustin was saying with his trials, we are trying to focus on that tail end of grain fill. The front half is easy, but the back half that’s what’s driving a lot of these yields and it’s crucial for us to get a good handle on.

The growers who fall into a yield masters category have that desire to learn where their yield is being lost. A lot of times we hear products, “If you do this, you can increase 10 to 15 bushels” or something around those nature. For the most part as we learn, the yield is set at the top and it’s all of these environmental stresses that pull yield down. Once we start thinking about the yield from that standpoint of how can we protect it and not necessarily increase it, it helps us understand the value of protecting that last third of the milk line. It’s crucial for optimum yield. Thanks for your insight. Let’s jump into the next category. We know it was a challenging year that crossed everybody’s territories. Can you think of a particular situation where you’re advising a customer or a farmer on probably one of the hardest decisions you had to make because you knew there was a lot of risks and a lot of writing on it? Can you think of a situation where you had to help somebody do that?

I would jump right back into April 2020 conditions. It’s one of the coolest periods of April that we’ve seen across the country. We had a lot of growers that are on the fence on whether to plant or not. The growers that worked with us dove into the forecast, and we were looking for those periods of time where we could get enough heat for that seed corn or soybeans to imbibe the water above 50 degrees. If you had a two-day run where you could get that corn in the ground and roll the dice, even though that April, the next two weeks were extremely cold. The growers that did that paid off. As John was saying, it built a root system that they could withstand the stresses that were going to come later in 2020.

I think that was probably one of the more difficult decisions because as an agronomist, we know it’s got to be 50 degrees. We look at everything that we’ve learned growing up and going through school. You need good heat for corn to emerge and you need a forecast that can sustain that, but for the growers that rolled the dice and did that, they had some of the best yields best crops that we’ve seen. The growers that waited around for perfect, they ended up planting in mid to late-May. They ended up catching some 2, 3, and 4-inch rain events. Their stands suffered because they were waiting for the perfect time. That’s one of the key challenges and one of the tougher decisions that I was involved and help making.

I’ve got two situations that come to mind when I come to advising. The first one goes back to our earlier conversation about the Eastern Corn Belt established. I was on a replant call with a grower who was chasing high yields. He poured the kitchen sink to this particular field with his starter program. He was ready to maximize his performance. He had to be out to look at that and he didn’t have a real perfect stand. He wanted to know what to do so we talked. We’ve measured and discussed the options. We looked at the forecast. That was such a big part of this whole process. We decided that we were going to leave it. It wasn’t ideal, but the stand was there to produce and it was planted early. I said, “Let’s leave it.” I got a text from that particular grower and he’s static. He has almost a 200-bushel farm average, which is awesome for the area he was in. To me, that makes this job worth it. When you help our grower through a difficult decision and at the end of the year, we both come to the conclusion that was the right decision.

The second one happened down in the Bootheel of Missouri. There was a freak hailstorm that came through when corn was about B3, B4. It essentially took a grain fill in one minute and wiped it down into the ground. It was heart-wrenching. It almost makes you want to vomit to look at it. Growers were seeking advice from our agronomy team on what to do. The initial reaction for growers is, “We’re going to tear this up. We’re going to start over. Let’s roll.” Knowing the physiological process of the corn plant, where the growing point was, and knowing that corn will regrow.” My team advises these growers, “Let’s keep it. Let’s let it regrow. Let’s flag a few of these plants.” They went out and flagged some of these plants to keep track of them.

The corn was essentially gone. They’ve come back and harvested those ears. For the plants that weren’t affected, maybe they were on the edge of the ditch or protected somehow versus those plants that were knocked off totally. We only saw 1 or 2-bushel loss, and that could simply be our testing error there as well. Once again, that grower didn’t give up the planting window that he had. He didn’t give up all the costs associated with replanting. He was able to maintain that stand, maintain that field, and maximize it still. To me, those are the two biggest things that happened that the agronomic team went out and gave some good advice.

As agronomists, our famous favorite last words are always, “It depends.” When a grower says, “Should I replant? Should I add this? Should I spray this?” At the end of the day, it depends. I’m sure you both hate being in situations where you’ve got to say that. Probably to many growers, you hate hearing that, but when it comes to the biology of a corn-soybean plant, there are many variables that can play into the situation that could negatively or positively impact the ultimate decision or performance. At the end of the day, all we can do is work off good sound knowledge-based off experience. Communicate with fellow agronomists. We’re always talking with extension people and get a better understanding of what’s going on.

We make the best decision we know how with what information we have. At harvest, we’ll know if that decision was good or not, but sometimes in farming, it’s the role of the dice. It’s safer to make some of the decisions that we’re going to make here versus going to Vegas and roll the dice. It’s important to learn about your crops, learn about the yield-limiting pieces, and partnering with good agronomists from the team here at AgriGold.

I want to thank everybody for tuning in. Hopefully, you’ve taken some knowledge away. Maybe it sparked your interest to become a yield master yourself. As you move forward on this journey of knowledge, tune in for future episodes. If you have a desire to learn more about what we’re doing, our projects and what we’re learning about, reach out to an AgriGold representative in your local areas and see if we can partner up, and help you start your journey of being a yield master. Thank you.

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