Managing Your Corn Crop All The Way To Black Layer: The Western Perspective

Crop yields depend on a complex web of interconnected factors. As Kris Young, an AgriGold Regional Agronomist from Kansas, Colorado and Oklahoma explains, it boils down to corn crop management and how one understands the various elements linked to the breeding process. Joining Todd Steinacher for a chat, Kris also shares his thoughts on managing decisions on hybrid selection and corn population, and how everything leads back to black layer. Join in and learn the secrets to growing your corn crop and ensuring greater success in your yields.

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Managing Your Corn Crop All The Way To Black Layer: The Western Perspective

My goal is and has always been to bring actionable farmer concepts and agronomic insight to help influence profitable decisions. With that, I would like to introduce my guest, Kris Young. He is a Certified Crop Advisor and an AgriGold agronomist in the Western division covering the Greater Kansas area. Kris, welcome to the show.

How are you doing?

Everybody sitting in the countryside is doing good, getting excited to learn about things in the West. Kris, take a few moments and tell us about yourself and the greater territory that you cover.

I grew up on a diversified crop and livestock farm here in Mount Hope, Kansas. I lived in Kansas all my life, I got a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in Agronomy from Kansas State University. I’ve been a seed agronomist for more than 21 years. I started my career with AgriGold in 2014. I’ve been an agronomist for them for more than six years covering the territory of Kansas, Colorado, and Oklahoma. Most of my time, I’m doing product agronomy training but a big part of that is also product testing and release of products here in the West. I’m married with three boys.

It’s great that you’ve got the family nearby. I know you’re active with your family so that’s always great to hear. You referenced that you’ve been in the seed industry for more than 21 years as a seed agronomist. A lot has changed and it seemed like a lot of those changes were within the last few years. In more than 21 years, what are some big milestones that you think have launched growers’ abilities to produce more bushels efficiently with a little less risk. What are some of the big players that you see that have come to us?

A lot of it has come through the biotech breeding parts, the traits. In the early 2000s, we started coming out with some of our first rootworm traits that greatly helped the corn on corn acres. Since the early 2000s, our breeding programs have been more direct toward drought tolerance. I’ve seen a greater improvement in drought tolerance in a lot of our corn hybrids. That has boosted corn acres especially on some of the marginal acres that we’ve had up there that typically have been planted to more crops like grain sorghum.

A lot of those acres have been transferred over to corn because of the better drought tolerance that has been focused on in the last several years. I would say the corn rootworm, drought thing, the onset of additional traits such as the Viptera that’s provided some excellent earworm control. Without a doubt, a lot of the breeding side and the biotech traits have been the greatest influence in terms of improving yields here in the last years.

We’ve definitely seen a lot in the last handful of years. In years, we’ve seen a huge leap. As you sit back and you go to your meetings and you look at new products coming down the pike or listen to new concepts, moving forward, think outside the box a little bit. What do you think are going to be some big game changers down the road?

We’re going to see some big improvements in our top-end yield potential on the breeding side. You’ll see a big focus there. On the corn management side, we’ve seen some big leaps and bounds made. In my early agronomy days, we didn’t focus too much on micros but there’s a big focus on micronutrients now especially for helping those growers take yields from that 250 marks up to 300-plus. I’ve seen a big improvement there where we’ve started integrating tissue testing and incorporating more micros and improving our timing of those micros and stuff had a big improvement I think will as we move forward. On the breeding side, we’re seeing hybrids that have some huge yield potential as long as we can manage them out the gate right. We’re going to see our top-end go up even higher.

You brought several good topics, we’ll dive into those but I want to call out the breeding process, we hear that a lot. The world germplasm and all these things coming together but there still is no silver bullet hybrid of variety. A lot of growers might think that we’ve been breeding corn for so long and we have all these things in it, it should’ve been invincible. I don’t think we’ll probably ever get to that point because it’s still biology. We’re putting biology in biology and the moment we stick that plant in the soil, something from Mother Nature wants to eat it, whether it’s a disease, an insect or a weed competing for sunlight and moisture. From your standpoint, we have great hybrids that have come out. Can you almost take a great hybrid and manage it wrong in your part of the world? What are some recommendations you have for growers for that?

YMP 11 | Corn Crop
Corn Crop: Kris scouting a field of A6544VT2. Regular scouting of the crop helps identify any yield limiting factors such as early disease and insect pressure and irrigation scheduling.

 

You’re exactly right, there’s no silver bullet hybrid out there. When we release a product, we always try to list out the strengths, and then we try to list out the weaknesses. For example, sometimes a weakness of a hybrid is we don’t want to overpopulate it. We have a hybrid like that in our lineup. 6544 is a high-yielding irrigated product and most people think if you’re going to produce high yields, you got to push that population 38,000 to 40,000. You don’t need to do that with a hybrid like that.

We run population tests and genetically, it’s one of those hybrids that’s the full flex hybrid and we generally see a reduction in yield when we try to overpopulate it. When you look at the management factor of just managing populations alone, we can drive that performance of a hybrid. For 6544 we always recommend that 32,000 to 34,000 is the sweet spot, even as low as 30,000. We’re able to hit yields of 250 to 300 at that population, whereas some genetics need that high population to hit. That’s one example that I’ve seen on managing population with some of our hybrids.

The other piece is, they always say, “If you take one step forward, you take two steps backward.” If growers are going to be making an alteration, maybe they’re going to keep the same hybrids and they change one thing which is population, that they bumped the population. They bumped the population but now they caused some other issue down the road. “Now, the roots are too tight.” “There’s not enough nitrogen.” To me, yield journey is this bigger equation and when you change one thing, you got to almost assume something else is going to cause a problem. We’ve got to test all these things and understand how the system works.

There are a lot of factors that go into how it performs and that’s why we do all these tests. It takes five years to bring a hybrid to market and then on top of that, we’ve got to run into some different management tests and figure out what works.

Some years ago, there were a lot of trials going on within Illinois. Their thought was, “We’re going to do these tight rows,” whether it be a twin row or a 15-inch or 20-inch row, “Crank these populations up.” They probably got higher yields but then what they didn’t counter is lack of air movement. They then start having all these stalk rots, ear rots, and all these other pieces. It made them change their thoughts. As growers think about improving yields that they go to meetings or they hear people on podcasts and tell them to check things out, to me, always take this information for a grain of salt. Make sure it works on your farm and field but go through the what if. Play Devil’s Advocate, “If I increase these populations, what’s my problem? What are all these other pieces that go into it?”

When you look at a hybrid, I always tell growers, “Figure out what hybrid works in a year for yield. Work with your agronomist and your sales rep, and once you get that hybrid it’s, ‘This is the one that’s performing in this area,’” then we take it to the farm and we figure out how can he make it work with his system? Whether he’s doing narrow corn or he’s doing wide rows, obviously, we want to make sure that hybrid is adapted to go into narrower corn.

If it comes to a disease situation, which can typically be a problem if we do run into some narrow rows and higher populations then we say, “This hybrid’s response to fungicide is also good. This is probably something we need to incorporate into your program.” Definitely looking at putting on a foliar fungicide around that tassel time for narrow corn. It’s going to depend on that hybrid’s ability to fight off disease, maybe its weakness is not a gray leaf spot, maybe its weaknesses are Southern rust. Southern rust picks off in a humid and hot climate. If it’s coming in late and we have a thick canopy, of course, we’re going to want to focus on a foliar fungicide around that time period as well. Many factors there but I always say start out with the right hybrid that’s adapted to your area then we’ll try to make it work with that grower’s management practices.

At the end of the day, the more we can learn collectively as agronomists and working with farmers, the better the outcome is going to be. It’s sometimes understated the value of the relationship of what the agronomist can bring to the table as well as the knowledge that the farmer has of field history and what’s going on in regional adaptiveness. To be hitting these next layers, it’s pulling all the resources together. It’s not going just getting information from one camper or one source, it’s collectively working together with growers to build this higher yield journey.

If we can get all those factors to work together, get the right hybrid on the farm, and get the grower set up to manage it accordingly, as long as Mother Nature cooperates, we’ll have some success.

Let’s change gears a little bit. We referenced a lot of stresses that can impact a corn crop. A lot of things that are out of our control and some things that we can have an influence on. From your part of the world, what are some agronomic challenges that you face, whether it be the temperatures, the soils, irrigations, diseases or insects in your part of the world? Tell us about some of the challenges that you and the growers face. What are the strategies they’re using to offset those problems?

When I think of our area, we didn’t start out with just hybrids for an area where it’s adapted and fits this area. We look at two things, green snap and Goss’s Wilt tolerance. Green snap tolerance, some people call that brittle snap, that plant’s ability to snap under a wind type of event. The reason we have so much wind here in the West, and green snap is a concern. We’re under some higher elevation, we’re up against the Rocky Mountains. During that springtime when we get storms, it’s not like a nice rain that we get, we typically get driving wind, downburst that makes that corn susceptible to breaking over.

YMP 11 | Corn Crop
The AgriGold Look: a brown husk on a green plant. This is A6544VT2. Feeding the crop based on plant tissue nutrient tests and watering to black layer ensures plant stays healthy and functional all the way to the end.

 

We have to make sure we’re recommending hybrids that have good green snap scores. All of that is determined in research plots and some of our pre-commercial plots that we do before we release the hybrid. We have a pretty good idea of how well it’ll handle green snap. Genetically, that’s important on a plant. A lot of our hybrids that have a lot of that tropical background tend to be a little bit more sensitive on the green snap.

We start out by selecting hybrids that have good green snap tolerance. We still will recommend the hybrid that might be a little susceptible if it’s a yield monster in the West. We will recommend that grower do is either buy some land insurance or make sure he doesn’t plant too much of it on the farm. Have a nice portfolio of products put on that farm so we’re not putting all our eggs in one basket. We’ll still recommend the hybrid that might have a little bit of marginal risk with green snap, but we mainly want products that are going to handle some of those wind events and won’t be a total failure if there is a large wind event.

Green snap is important. If it doesn’t rate above average in Goss’s Wilt, we typically don’t recommend it. In the West, all seed companies have done a good job in the last 10 years of breeding corn that’s tolerant to Goss’s Wilt. As a rule of thumb, we’ll look at those two things as, “Let’s make sure we have a hybrid that’s got a good green snap score and Goss’s Wilt tolerance.” There are some other factors we look at too when we look at hybrids here in the West.

Hybrids need to be able to handle heat tolerance, especially warm night temperatures because all that puts stress on the plant. We do select products that tend to handle hotter temperatures, warm nights, and that are able to pollinate set green well under those types of conditions. We look down on a few other things, most people don’t realize as you move West, you get into some more calcareous soils that have more of a lime content to them. That causes high pH and ties up iron.

Corn overall does a good job of tolerating iron chlorosis, but there are some hybrids that are sensitive. We will use some of our high pH plots to select genetics out there that have good tolerance to low iron levels and can move into those calcareous soils and still maintain yield. If they don’t, what they typically do is they get chlorotic chlorosis, a lot of interveinal striping on the leaves, and therefore, they’re not able to have efficient photosynthesis and yield well.

Those are probably some of the main things that are challenges that we work through in the West, in Kansas and Nebraska especially. It’s making sure we’re selecting products that have those good attributes but also recommending to the grower, “Let’s make sure we’re being diverse on that farm, not putting all our eggs in one basket, and having some genetic diversity there to help us reduce our risk out there.”

Backup a bit on the green snap. You referenced if you have a good yield hall and it’s got to work out West, you might try to get a little on the farm if you know it’s got a little bit less of a score from green snap. Are there any recommendations you would give the grower whether it be from a nitrogen standpoint or a population that would help limit the issue with that? How would you go about making that recommendation?

There are some things that we can help improve the green snap tolerance a little bit just by how we manage it. One, we wouldn’t want to plan it high on population. For the West, we like products that have some good ear flex. We generally turn them like it’s semi-flex or full flex. If we can keep it in more of a moderate population if you’re irrigated, moderate for us is around that 30,000 to 32,000. In other areas that may be low or a little high, 30,000 is a nice moderate population for our irrigated corn that’s got high yield potential.

We’ll encourage that grower, “Let’s keep that population in the low to moderate range.” We’ll also recommend, “Be careful about applying herbicides with growth regulators in them.” A lot of our dicamba-based products that we post, what they do is create a little bit of a time there when that corn is a little more brittle. If they do apply some dicamba over the top to help control some broadleaf weeds, and then we get a wind event a day or two afterward, it can increase that hybrid susceptibility to green snap.

We do caution growers on the timing and the rate of any kind of growth regulator type of a product over the top of that corn. Once they get to that stage and up, the nitrogen part is important too. If we put way too much nitrogen on there than what the crop needs, it’s going to encourage a lot of vegetative growth that may not be necessary, and also just make that pile more susceptible. Making sure you’re using moderate amounts. A good idea for growers growing in an irrigation, if he can spoon feed that crop and spread out that nitrogen application. That way, it’s not getting too much nitrogen at one time. If we’re spreading it out, it will help that hybrid tolerate some green snap events that may occur during that time.

As I think of farming conditions going West, I think of lighter soil stress, lack of some moisture, warm nights. In the last couple of years, we started seeing more things in the industry about leaf architecture. You got hybrids that have a big droopy leaf. You got some that are semi-upright. You got some that are so far upright that you can pick them out in aerial satellite images than different hybrids. How does leaf style play into managing crops in the West?

I will say it depends on the system you’re going to put them into. Typically, our higher population higher yield type of hybrids that are going to go under for those type of conditions, we’d like to be a little bit more upright. That way they’re a little bit more efficient in getting that sunlight because you’re going to crowd those plants together a little bit more. If we can get those leaves to be a little more upright and a higher population system especially when you start surpassing 36,000 or 38,000, those types of hybrids tend to be a little bit better in those types of systems.

YMP 11 | Corn Crop
300 bu/acre A6544VT2: Managing grain fill to black layer results in maximizing kernel number to the ear tip and kernel depth the full length of the ear.

 

As you get into populations that are lower to more moderate, whether that’s moving into a limited irrigation scenario where you just don’t have enough water to put on. As we lower that population down, you’re going to start having more gaps between the plants. Usually, more of a horizontal type of the leaf structure is beneficial from the standpoint of, you’re shading that ground early, you’re keeping that soil temperature low. You’re losing moisture from evaporation, trying to reduce that, and also trying to control your weeds that are coming in especially as we move into a dry land where we have a lower yield environment.

Our populations could be as low as 12,000 to 16,000 in the far West. If a grower there wants a nice big robust plant, more of a horizontal leaf that will shade that ground, maintain that soil temperature, shade out the weeds, that becomes more important in that type of a growing system. It depends on what you’re trying to target. From a leaf structure standpoint, upright and high yield tend to be more beneficial. As we’re getting the low yield, low pop, we want more of those horizontal type leaf structures.

We’ll probably hear more talk and print on leaf structure. I’ve had more conversations on leaf structure in the last couple of years than I ever have. There was a product the last couple of years that we brought out in my area. A lot of the guys were cautious because it had an upright leaf structure to it. They were worried from a canopy standpoint, and some it was on some irrigated sands, how it handled stress. The hybrid raw yielded. Sometimes, we can have these characteristics we may or may not like, but at the end of the day, if it’s a good hybrid, it can yield and it can do all these great things. It might not be the visual, pretty hybrid that we always love and cherish, sometimes we just got to know it and know in our gut, it’s going to work.

I don’t know how many times I’ve had a hybrid and it’s not pretty. Growers say, “That’s an ugly-looking hybrid,” but after they harvested with their combine, they were pretty happy with it. Sometimes, looks can be deceiving. Sometimes, you can have a hybrid out there that looks choppy, upright, and not the prettiest but can still yield, and at the end of the day, that’s what we select for. If we can get some of those eye-appealing visual things in there as an add-on bonus such as stay green and stuff like that, that’s great but it’s all got to come together.

They always say to people who keep trying to find the perfect of something, it’s the unicorn. You got to find that unicorn. I don’t know in the seed industry if there is a unicorn hybrid. There’s probably some that attempted pretty darn close but we’ll never find that unicorn, the silver bullet if you will. It goes back to learning hybrids and knowing where things can go. In the last several years, we’ve seen more of a push of growers trying to do their own on-farm trials or trying to profile hybrids and trying to see how they can push these yields. It goes down that path of the yield masters.

Kris, from your standpoint, working with these growers that are shooting for higher yields because high yield can be different from somebody in Kansas than somebody in Michigan or Ohio. It’s all up to the individual grower. Across your geographies, you’ve got a lot of different yield zones and yield environments. What are some things that you’re doing or see the growers are doing to advance this yield piece?

Most importantly, they’re doing a good job of matching populations with the hybrids. Those growers that are trying to move the needle, fortunately, work with their key account specialists or their agronomist on making sure that they’re getting those populations in check. More importantly, as we look at fertilizing, there are some hybrids that respond well to side-dress nitrogen or nitrogen that’s put on later such as early grain fill.

A perfect hybrid that comes to mind is 6544. We have figured out that if we can get that grower to spoon-feed nitrogen to it especially through the irrigation pivot, put a third of it on upfront, and then another third or more later. Add another 20, 30 units for early grain fill, and then make sure that they will water that hybrid to the end because it’s one of those hybrids. It’s offensive, it drives down fast and if we can get that grower to water to the end, to black layer, we’ll maximize the yield of that hybrid.

That’s one thing we’ve learned as we look at these high-yield areas. Make sure we match the hybrid to the yield but also, what does that hybrid specifically need that grower to do to get the maximum potential out of it? Sometimes, it’s putting on a late fungicide. Sometimes, it’s spoon-feeding nitrogen through the pivot all through the season. Watering to the end, things like that are probably some of the main things we’ve identified with some of these growers as far as maximizing their yields.

I’m glad you called out, from an irrigation standpoint, water to black layer. Even in conversations I’ve had over the last several years, a lot of guys think the milk line starts coming down up yields basically bagged it’s okay. I don’t know what you found but I’ve done some trials last couple of years where you pull ears and weigh. I’m at three-quarters milk line come back at harvest when the regular crop is still there.

In a three-quarter milk line, I’m using gram scales to weigh all this stuff out and you can find 24% to 25% yield that’s lost. If that three-quarters milk line we give up, whether it be, the pivot shut off it, we run out of nitrogen, we’ve got leaf diseases, photosynthesis not being able to take place. That’s where we’re losing yield. It’s important to focus on this backside and for so long we’ve always focused on front-loading the crop and now hybrids and yields have evolved. Now is when you start managing to that backside.

I looked at your study and I thought that was impressive. We had an opportunity to see that. It’s growing season and we had one of the driest August we’ve had in a long time. For the previous years before that, we’ve had some pretty mild August that had some moisture. That mid-August time is when we’re in that half milk line going into the black layer stage. Comfortably, growers have been used to having some wet August like, “I can shut that irrigation off half milk line. We’re getting some rain. I’ve got some moisture in the soil and I got enough to finish this crop.”

In August 2020, we’ve got hot and dry. Our profiles were pretty shrunk down. Growers say, “It’s half milk line, I can shut the moisture off.” We’ve seen some yield losses because of that. If you take an offensive hybrid that’s in a 250-yield bushel potential, and it’s still got 2 to 3 more weeks of grain fill and it runs out of moisture, you’re going to lose some kernel depth. We visited a field like that to evaluate it. It was looking good. The grower had to shut off the water a little bit earlier than he liked and when we came back in about 2 to 3 weeks, we could see that those corn plants were starting to stress. Those ears are starting to point down and shut down. We lost a lot of kernel depth just because of that.

It was a dry August and that crop was still using moisture but it couldn’t get it from the soil. Our evapotranspiration rates are running high. When you take a hybrid like that in a high yield environment, you’re going to use lose some yield if you don’t water it until the black layer. If it doesn’t have moisture to finish out. August 2020 was a good example of what you did on your test. We just didn’t have the moisture to finish that crop so growers have to pay attention to that. If their soil levels are dry, they can’t shut that moisture off in mid-August. They’ve got to water that corn to black layer especially if they’re dealing with a pretty offensive hybrid and are dealing with high yield potential.

I’m glad to know that you guys are observing those same agronomic characteristics to the west that can help improve yields. To me the whole piece of grainfield, I always go off those Purdue Agronomy little handbooks and it gives you date ranges or day ranges for R2, R3, R4, R5 and to me, if the plant is healthy and happy it’s going to maximize each of those stages and that’s where we get yield. Anytime that we have warm nights, have respiration issues, a lack of moisture, diseases, lack of photosynthesis discharged pulling that down.

To me, and by no means is this a pitch for fungicides, but a lot of times we get those diseases late season. Southern rust, in my part of the world, gets some grey leaf coming in. Then when fungicides first came on the market for corn, maybe it was originally pitched wrong or sideways in the industry. It was, “Kris, go spray this and it will improve your yields.” In fact, your yield was already established by spraying a fungicide.

If there was a yield-limiting disease or respiration issue, it preserved it. Often, even before I made this revelation from how it works, I was thinking, “If I go spray this, I’m going to increase my yield.” If you think about how it actually works from a biological standpoint, that yield’s already been established, we’re just chipping it away. It goes back to all these little things from the moment we plant the seed to managing all the way through to black layers, all these little things that build up to that high yield potential. We just got to manage to that.

It’s a big factor that growers usually don’t think about at the end of the season. Watering, fungicide, preserving that yield in the end, especially when you get in these high yield systems. When there’s a mistake made, there’s a bigger yield consequence.

A lot of times, and you’ve probably been there too, from an agronomy standpoint, we used to get called in harvest or after harvest when there’s a problem and we’ve got to determine what caused the problem. Sometimes we’ve got 3 feet of row that was left for us. Maybe we see the corn stalks laying on the ground we’ve got all these ears out there. We’ve got to piece the puzzle together but I was called a CSI, Crop Scene Investigation.

We almost have to work backward to see where was yield lost and almost what event. To me, if you can start doing that in fields where they don’t yield what you think they should, it’s almost like simple math. “Weigh the kernels. Kernel’s round, kernel’s long. Look at nodal roots.” You can almost figure out where stress took place that given season and you can almost say, “Is this seasonal stress or is occasional stress? How can I better manage to that?” Our crops tell us an awesome story if we’re willing to listen.

There’s no doubt. There’s a story to be told and when something goes wrong you need to get out and investigate. Ask a lot of questions. A lot of times, the first thing I do is dig up the plant and look at the roots. A lot of times, that’ll tell you a lot of story of maybe went wrong during the season, or if there are some leftover ears after harvest, you can definitely pull some of them up and look at them and see what the overall kernel depth looks like. Did it tip back some? A lot of different things you can learn by looking at some of those details that can tell you about when the yield was affected.

In my area, I’m able to pull a lot away from these tissue sample projects to uncover some of these limiting factors throughout the season. Have you been able to use this or pull some value out of that in observing it and making recommendations? What’s been your experience there?

We have gotten going with these tissue tests here in the last few years. We have built a five-year database of where these concentrations need to be at different growth stages and different yield levels. We have a lot of growers that do a great job of growing 220, 240-bushel corn, but for some of them, it’s a struggle to get over that 250 mark. We have a lot of growers that are excellent farmers, a good job with the fundamentals. I always tell the grower, “Going for high yield, make sure you’re taking care of the fundamentals, your NPK, you’re reducing compaction. Making sure you’re getting the right hybrid, the right population, timing of nutrients, getting fundamentals down.”

If we get a grower to that stage, I always say, “The next thing we need to do here is let’s incorporate some tissue testing.” What that does is it shows the timing of when that crop is hungry, when it needs it. If we can run a test, it’s usually one of the first tissue tests runs around that V6, V7. That’s the time when growers typically are doing some side-dressing, we can run that test, figure out if he’s got some critical levels if they’re lower or higher, and where they need to be based on his yield goal. If they running a little bit below, then we can incorporate some additional sulfur, additional zinc and nitrogen. We can add to that component to help raise those levels.

A lot of times, we’ll see those levels move in the next testing because a lot of times, we’ll test again around V13, V14, just to see if we’re moving the needle. Without a doubt, the tissue testing is helping a lot of these growers go from 250 to above by making sure they’re getting micros. As we get into higher yield environments, that’s when your micros become much more important. If we can figure out what’s limiting yield, get the timing down, there’s a good chance we can move the needle. Especially if we can get everything else to work right. Get Mother Nature, to be good to us during the season and stuff. Without a doubt, using that tissue sampling is definitely a good way to take our yield to the next level.

Every time I think of a tissue sampling project process, I think of the images of Liebig’s Law the minimum barrel. All the different staves in there and maybe we assume that all the X, Y, and Z nutrients, those staves are high and that’s not our limiting factor, or maybe we assume what the limiting factor is. To me, this tissue sampling process, across the whole season is almost a scorecard of how the nutritional program match that field and that crop. It highlights which pieces are the lowest stave in the barrel.

I find it so interesting, especially when you get to the last two sampling pieces. The nutrients that need to be so high in the crop. Those are the ones that we might not manage as good. Maybe we manage it on the front side, but we’re not managing to the backside. Just doing them, getting an idea, and start figuring out, “These are the nutrients I know I need to be high in, but my levels are being short. Based on how I currently manage it, what would offset this to extend it later in the season?” When you do things like this, it doesn’t always give you a straight answer. It’s not, “Go here and collect $500,” like the Monopoly game. You probably get more questions and answers and that’s where it can be very challenging. That’s where we want to help growers and help to uncover those questions.

Every field is different. Every grower is different. We’re tissue sampling with some growers here that may be separated by one county, and we’ll get some different results back on our tissue. They may be running a similar program, but it’s a different soil type, different management. We have some water levels that are fairly shallow and that can affect what that hybrid is pulling up and stuff. Even though our growers fall in the same management practice, they still can get some different levels on those tissue tests and that’s why I always say, “You need to pull up by field because every field’s a little bit different and it’s going to tell you a little bit different story but at least it may help to tell you, ‘What do I need to focus on? What may be limiting my yield?’” It’s a good practice to use.

Kris, I enjoyed our conversation. It feels like I learned a lot of insight to what growers go through in the West. Do you have any words of wisdom or recommendations for growers in general or as they take the journey of this current crop moving forward? Do you have any closing comments?

A big thing for me that I tell growers is making sure you’re getting the fundamentals down. I have some growers that do a great job of fertilizing but once we go out there and we start digging some plants, we start seeing that they’ve got compaction issues. It doesn’t matter what that grower does in terms of nutrients. He could pour the fertilizer to it, do the tissue, put micros on, if its limiting factor’s compaction, it doesn’t matter what he does. He’s got to fix that compaction problem. I always encourage growers to try to figure out every growing season, in the end, “What was limiting my yield here? If it’s compaction, we have an opportunity to fix it by doing some ripping during the fall or some vertical tillage to try to help break up that compaction, maybe that was the yield-limiting factor.”

Sometimes factors are out of our control, such as the weather. You get a hail event, a wind event, those things are out of your control but the biggest thing is, growers, if they’re serious about moving their yield, try to be a good student of the crop. Try to figure out what’s limiting yield each year and try to build on it each year. If you do that, eventually you don’t totally fix everything but it’s going to help you get closer to that yield goal and trying to figure out what you need to do to improve your overall yield over the years.

Thanks, Kris. I do appreciate that. Friends, as we close out this episode, our crops are telling us a story of what they need and the journey that the roots are going through, and everything else. It’s up to us if we’re willing to know the story and what they need. If I go off of Kris’s comments, some of them were, the yield journey is about understanding and implementing the basics. Let’s get the basics done right before we start going to these higher-level pieces.

It’s so important to match the hybrid to the population just so we make sure that we’re not over-stressing these plants, but we’re maximizing what they have to offer. It’s important that we manage to black layer. I’m glad you brought that up. It’s a great insight into how we protect yield and hit these higher-yielding plateaus. Moving forward, incorporating some way of understanding what the crops are going through using a tissue sample process project that we’ve been very aggressive on trying to learn. There are a lot of opportunities out there. I do appreciate you tuning in to this episode and I look forward to having future conversations. Thank you, Kris.

Thank you for having me.

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