As he looked forward to the 2011 crop, Dowdy says he wanted to “hit a home run.”

“This year, instead of walking the fields a couple times a week, I walked them a minimum of every other day, watching what was going on as I applied nutrients, chemicals and water. I looked at the plants to see how they were responding to what I was doing. I felt I was doing some things right, but I also tried some different things,” he says. Dowdy’s main motivation was to learn something in order to help other growers reach the next level.

“I knew I needed to think outside the box, focusing on removing corn plant stress and learning why, when, what and how the plant functions throughout its reproductive cycle. I had to make sure I removed all of the stressors of the plant — fertilizer, weed control, disease, plant population, tillage, irrigation — all of which must be managed to prevent yield loss. The variable of Mother Nature is out of our control, but we can do something about all these other yield-limiting factors.”

And Dowdy is quick to add that everything must be done on time. “Timeliness is everything. Many times, the difference between a good farmer and a great farmer is four or five days. We need to get seed in the ground early and with precision, spray herbicides on time, fertilize and lime timely and accurately based on yield goals, apply fungicides for disease prevention, and make sure water is always present in sufficient amounts.”

In addition to corn, he also grows peanuts, cotton and wheat, sometimes double-cropping soybeans with wheat.

“My passion is in growing corn, and when I grow corn, sometimes I deliver it to the local elevator and sometimes I grow it for dairy farms or poultry houses. The markets have been pretty good since ethanol plants came on line in the Southeast, such as the one in Camilla, Ga. Corn gives us another opportunity to combat herbicide-resistant pigweeds because we can use different chemistries with corn.”

All of his corn is irrigated, otherwise it’s too risky and too unpredictable, he says. If there are dryland acres, it’s because the pivot doesn’t hit it, like a corner of the field. This year, he had five to 10 acres of dryland corn in some fields, from which he says he didn’t make one bushel.

“In anticipation of what kind of yields I would be making due to the hot and dry weather, I started doing yield estimates after pollination and couldn’t believe the averages I was coming up with. The yield estimates were consistently above 300 in some hybrids. Surprisingly, at harvest, our first NCGA entry went 296 bushels on a variety that was 50 to 60 percent lodged.  I knew if the lodged hybrid was yielding that high with the large amount of loss, then the corn still standing was going to be really special.

“Next, we did a check on Pioneer 1814 that was still standing, and the first check went 340 while the recheck went 352. The yields were not kept quiet for long. After we got the 352, it was chaos around here, with everyone coming by and wanting to see the corn and asking what I was doing different to attain those yields.

“A week or so later, we started harvesting Pioneer 2023, which was my winner last year. It was a 120-day hybrid, and when it finally got dry enough to pick, we got into it and the yield check went 354 and the re-check went 364 bushels per acres.