Editor’s note: This is the second part of a two-part series focusing on perennial national corn yield contest winner Randy Dowdy of south Georgia, his 2013 crop, and his plans for next year.
While Randy Dowdy loves to grow corn, and he’s been quite successful at it, like other growers he’ll be closely watching commodity markets when he divvies up his crop acreage next year.
“Obviously, the amount of corn we plant in the Southeast next year truly will be dictated by price,” says Dowdy, who broke the 400-bushel barrier with his 2013 corn crop.
“We have the option of growing cotton, corn, wheat, peanuts and soybeans, and there will be pressure on the grain markets. It appears now that the price will be deflated. With that being the case, some farmers will plant corn because of rotation, and some will do it because they’ve got weed problems and need to be using a different chemistry.”
Dowdy’s management strategy for next year will include focusing on his most productive areas. “High yields matter the most whenever prices are low. To be profitable, we need to maximize yields to increase our return on investment,” he says.
The last couple of years, with high commodity prices, fertilizer prices also have been up, he notes. “So there’s some pressure on the fertilizer prices to come down.”
Some of Dowdy’s strategies will change, as they do every year since he began growing corn in 2006. “Most all of my acres will be irrigated except for some dryland corners. I still enjoy growing corn, and one thing about growing corn is that I can double-crop it.
“If I plant beans behind wheat, it works pretty well. If I plant cotton or peanuts behind wheat, if the planting window is not optimal, then I end up taking away from the peanut or cotton crop. But my best double-crop option is something planted behind corn.
“There’s still some risk there with a possible early frost, but it provides a good cash flow in the middle of the year, and it provides a lot of organic matter.
“I don’t farm the best soils, so that’s a huge factor. With that being the case, we’ll work to continue building our soils, trying to increase the organic matter. We’ll also be looking at alternative sources of fertilizer, such as chicken litter.”
It’ll be interesting in 2014 with corn expected to return to the $4 to $5 level, says Dowdy.
It's important to try at least one new thing each year
One theme that consistently emerges from Dowdy’s corn production strategy is “change.” He credits his record-breaking yields to his willingness to try something new.
It’s important, he says, to try at least one new thing each year, and he certainly practices what he preaches.
“This past year, I tested a tillage method that’s a little different from what I’ve done in the past.
“I also looked at banding fertilizer rather than broadcasting it, and I looked at the full rate versus 60 percent of the rate to see what that net return would be.
“In addition, I experimented with different fungicides this year because I don’t want to use the same one year after year and build resistance.
He also experimented with seed population trials this past season, something he has done each year he has grown corn.
“As new hybrids become available, they respond differently to different populations. Also, I looked at twin versus single rows, and I planted variety trials to see what we might want to plant in the future.
“University trials rate the varieties, but I want to see what it does on my farm. I had a DeKalb variety to break 300 bushels this year, and I’ve never had that happen before. That was exciting.”
Dowdy’s best performing corn variety for 2013 was Pioneer 1303.
“It’s a 113-day corn, and it was my best by far, with great quality. The second best was DeKalb 6209, with excellent grain quality. It was a pleasure picking and harvesting those varieties. I’ve had experience with 1303 for two years now, and it has looked good both years.”
While excessive rainfall during the 2013 season helped to reduce irrigation inputs, Dowdy say he would much rather have had to water.
“This year, the rainfall cost me more in the long-run. If we get rain, we need for it to come in and be gone in a day or two. Straight-line winds, hail and strong thunderstorms — we had some of it all this year. But it is what it is — that’s farming.”
This past year, he planted seven corn hybrids for his production. “I was fairly diversified, but there will be even more diversity next year. We’ve got to spread our risks, especially in a year like last year.”
Dowdy's system costs more but good return on his investment
Dowdy’s success in corn production has ignited a lot of interest in his system, and this past year he helped consult on between 10,000 and 12,000 acres.
“The results varied, depending on when the corn was planted. Everyone had good yields, but it was not across-the-board on every acre simply because what we should have planted in 10 days instead took three four weeks in some cases. Also, some growers planted one hybrid and did not want to diversify.”
Some of his growers averaged 300 bushels across an entire field, while others averaged less, he says. It all depended on when the variety pollinated and the kind of weather it experienced during grain fill.
Criticism comes with the territory when you’re achieving something no one else has been able to achieve, and Dowdy shrugs it off as human nature.
“I’m doing what I’m doing to make a living. My corn program costs more time and more money, but it has always been a good return on investment and has always made money and higher yields as long as Mother Nature cooperates. We can do our part but God is the finisher, and I give him all the glory.
“If an opportunity is taken away by weather, then that’s tough. Everything I do is about preventing stress on the plant, and there are some things that can’t be prevented, such as too much rain or not enough rain, or too much or too little sunlight.
“Most growers know this is not just one silver bullet — they know it’s a management strategy.”
Dowdy concedes he can’t make everybody happy. “There are people out there who will be critical no matter what. I’m pretty thick-skinned — I do what I do. Part of the reason I share the information I share is because when I first started, someone was willing to help me.
“I don’t have to prove anything. Some of the professionals are critical because they’ve never grown 300-bushel corn.
“So how can they say what’s viable when they haven’t done it themselves? I take people like that with a grain of salt. That’s part of life. I try to help the growers who want my help, and if I can help them I do.
“The University of Georgia has been very receptive, and we’ve done many trials and fieldwork together.”
To help other growers with their questions and requests for advice, Dowdy has set up a website, firstname.lastname@example.org.
“We’re in the process of setting this up now. I’ll refer growers to the web page, and we’ll offer services. I can’t walk every field, but we’ll do what we can to answer questions and provide information.
“I’ve got a willingness to help people, and I’m humbled by the response I’ve received from growers and others.”