Virginia corn producer Dave Hula, left, and crop advisor Jimmy Ward have worked together 13 years as Hula has expanded his efforts to eliminate as many threats to seedling corn as possible.
Virginia grower tops the national no-till yield contest with early-season attention to details.
Successfully farming under the watchful eye of millions of urbanites and the a host of state and federal regulatory agencies around the politically and environmentally-sensitive Chesapeake Bay is one thing, but knocking out award-winning corn yields in a "zero-till" operation on the outskirts of historic Williamsburg and Richmond, Va., is quite another.
Dave Hula, Charles City, Va., did just that in 2013 in a part of Virginia that usually sees dryland corn yields of about 150 bu. per acre.
Dave’s no-till, irrigated Pioneer contest corn yielded 454.9 bu. in the 2013 corn yield contest conducted by the National Corn Growers Association (NCGA).
"It was a good year for corn in eastern Virginia with a lot of dryland yields over 200 bu. per acre," explains crop consultant Jimmy Ward, a sales representative with Crop Production Services, Aylett, Va. "But the yields the Dave produced were products of a lot of little management things," he explained, noting he has worked closely with Hula for 13 years, and calls him a student of corn.
In all, Hula says he farms about 2,000 acres of corn in a 4,000-acre no-till corn/wheat/bean rotation that usually yields three crops in two years.
"We have some acres that are in continuous corn, but the rotation moves throughout our operation over a number of seasons," he says. In addition, he produces and conditions seed wheat and soybeans as part of his operation.
As a side-benefit, Hula farms close enough to the James River to be able to irrigate through several center-pivot sprinklers as needed, but he’s adamant about not disturbing the soil with tillage, and spends considerable time with his crops providing for them and bringing them through the critical planting-to-seedling stage to ensure consistently high yields.
"Dave says ‘Corn can’t have a bad day,’" explains Ward, who notes Hula uses the staves in a barrel approach to farming. "If you have a wooden barrel, all the staves have to be the same height, or the contents of the barrel run out," he explains. "In Dave’s case, the contents are yield, so he wants all his staves – fertility, weed, pest and disease control, moisture and soil health – all to be capable of supporting top yields." To do that, Ward says Hula spends much more time in the field than the average producer.
"The attention to details make a difference," Ward explains. "Tissue sampling is one of his favorite tools, and he does it weekly – where many producers may use it only once before side-dressing corn at the V5 or V6 stage. Dave knows what his plants need on nearly a daily basis because he’s willing to pay attention to those details," he adds.
Hula’s High-Yield RX
Hula says you can’t have high yields without consistent stands, and that includes taking every precaution to protect your seed and its yield potential at every turn.
"We realize when we open a bag of seed its potential yield is vulnerable to compromise at every turn," Hula explains.
To mitigate any compromise, he does everything he can to stack the deck in the seed’s favor.