Wood and his brother Keith, now an Extension farm agent in Cherokee County, N.C., used some of that same innovation to reclaim much of the family farmland, which was rented for several years after his grandfather died.

In 2010 Wood won second place in the National Corn Growers Association non-irrigated category, producing 287 bushels per acre. The award is one of numerous yield awards in both soybeans and corn, which were produced despite a constant battle with diseases that are unique to his mountain valley.

Pioneer, Monsanto and BASF all rent land from Wood to conduct fungicide tests, primarily for gray leafspot in corn.

While having an ideal location for disease research is conducive to renting valuable corn land to large corporations, it isn’t so ideal for running a sustainable grain farming operation.

The east-west orientation of the mountain valley helps produce a thick blanket of fog, which covers the valley up to about 200 feet above the ground, during the summer months. This heavy fog traps humidity and moisture near the ground, then typically burns away by mid-morning, producing both an ideal incubation and growing environment for gray leafspot.

Gray leaf spot of corn, caused by the fungus Cercospora zeae-maydis, has been known in the United States since 1924, when it was first reported in Illinois.

The disease was considered a minor problem in corn production, until no-till and minimum-tillage practices began to grow in popularity. In recent years the disease has become a limiting factor in corn production in many areas of the country.

Wood says diseases can be a challenge, but with the fungicides available and his years of dealing with the problem, gray rust and other diseases are not a primary limiting factor for yields.

He rotates corn and soybeans, but typically has a few acres of corn behind corn, which creates problems with his long-term no-till and minimum-tillage systems.

“I can’t plant corn behind corn in a no-till situation, because of the disease pressure. In those fields, I have to go back to conventional-tillage to turn under the crop residue and bury some of the disease causing organisms to help with disease management,” he says.

“I look at the environment we have and the land we have to farm as much more an asset than a liability,” Wood says.

“We have to do some things differently than grain growers in any other part of the country, but at the end of the day the rich soil and plentiful moisture trump the disease pressure, he adds.