Virginia grower David Hula made big news in 2011 when we won the corn yield contest with 429 bushels of corn per acre.

Last year North Carolina State Corn Specialist Ronnie Heiniger set out to duplicate Hula’s feat with a test he calls Hula 400.

The Hula 400 test plots were part of the annual Northeast (North Carolina) Agricultural Expo. The 2011 show was held in Pasquotank County with cooperating farmer Charles Gray and his two sons.

Heiniger says, “Our focus was trying to increase kernel weight, because that looks like the best way to get to these 300 bushel and higher yields. We did this in the tests at Northeast Ag Expo by increasing nitrogen to the plant at key growth periods.”

David Hula, Kip Cullers and other growers with multiple yield championships in their resumes like to say, “A standing crop should never have a bad day.” 

Heiniger says that principle drove some of the treatments in the Hula 400 tests. “We wanted to influence photosynthesis by increasing nitrogen content and thus chlorophyll content in the leaf at critical times in the plant’s growth cycle,” Heiniger says.

Though the North Carolina State research team didn’t quite make the 400 bushel per acre goal, they did grow some impressive corn, which was the talk of the mid-summer Expo.

The top yield of 324 bushels per acre came from adding nitrogen to corn just before tassling and before silking — much the same treatment as David Hula used to produce his record breaking crop in Virginia.

When growers apply nitrogen to corn at the V-7 stage, which is common in the Upper Southeast, often all the nitrogen is gone by the time the crop gets to the tassle stage and frequently it’s gone by the time grain fill begins, the North Carolina State specialist says.

Getting nitrogen to the plant at these later stages of development is the problem. By that time corn plants are tall and leaves have lapped across the rows, so making ground application is risky and most likely counter-productive to high yields.