Not too long ago, a corn producer might throw everything he could at a crop to make impressive yields. But that’s a luxury afforded only by high commodity prices, and those days are gone.

When profit margins are tight, efficiency takes precedence over high yields, and farmers like Tyler Lindsey need to make every input count. In 2013, this south Georgia farmer was the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension High Yield Corn Production Efficiency Contest state winner in the irrigated production category. His winning entry was 301.8 bushels per acre at a cost of $2.87 per bushel, with the DeKalb 62-09 variety.

With the latest U.S. Census of Agriculture showing the median age of farmers at 58 years, Lindsey – who turns 25 in August – is bucking the trend, but he doesn’t recommend the farming life for everyone, and he’s had some good help along the way.

“It has been a long and hard road. It seems there’s always a fire to put out somewhere. It gets more and more difficult each year dealing with the stresses farming, but it’s that way with every farmer. It’s just part of the game” says Lindsey, who has been farming since he was 17. Lindsey’s father also farms full time after retiring from Monsanto. “It has been nice to be able to pick up the phone and call dad and get the advice of someone who’s been doing this for nearly 40 years.”

While land rents and prices continue to increase along with the price of inputs, returns aren’t keeping pace, says Lindsey.

“After 2012, we decided if there was ever a time to get bigger it, that was it, so we expanded the operation and diversified. You have to take it day by day – it’s different from anything else, and I promise you nobody would still be farming if they didn’t really love it,” he says.

In addition to corn crops in both the spring and fall, along with peanuts and soybeans, Lindsey grows about 350 acres of produce including watermelons, squash, cucumbers, cabbage and greens.

“We also grow small grains during the winter along with greens. We usually grow cotton but not this season. Counting double-cropping, we’re farming roughly 2,500 acres of crops in Colquitt, Berrien and Cook counties. But I couldn’t do all of this myself, and you’re only as good as the men who help you. Cass Dorminey, who’s my farm manager, is my backbone. He keeps everything moving forward day after day. I don’t know what I’d do without him, and I’m lucky to call him a close friend,” says Lindsey.

He was strictly row-cropping until about two to three years ago, when he added produce to the mix along with some beef cattle. His wife, Jasmine, he adds, looks after the cattle.

“She’s six months pregnant with our first child, Paisley, who is due in August. I don’t know what I’d do without her. She’s been here through the good times and the bad, always helping me keep my head up.”

Poultry litter key to corn efficiency

Once it’s all finally planted this year, Lindsey will have about 400 acres of corn and 600 acres of peanuts.

Looking back at the success of this past year’s corn crop, he says that one key to his efficient production was the use of poultry litter. “On one farm, we applied variable-rate commercial fertilizer, but we applied 3 tons of chicken litter on the other corn – the corn that was tops in efficiency – and it saved us a lot of money. We’ve been using poultry litter for awhile now and have been pleased with the results.”

He says another key factor was variety selection versus soil types, among other things. “I’d have to give that one to Morris Henry from Helena chemical in Moultrie, he stuck right there with me from planting to harvest along with Jason Pittman from Monsanto”

It also helped, he says, that 2013 was one of those “perfect” years for corn. “Everything was done on time, from planting in mid-March through harvest. Although Lindsey received good rainfall in 2013, he still irrigated quite a bit.

“But when the dust settles its real simple – none of this would be possible without the man upstairs. Without the grace of God, none of this would be possible.”

Lindsey’s fertilization programs includes about 100 units of nitrogen when corn is about 8 to 10 inches tall followed by another 150 units, giving him about 250 total units. Then he injects about 60 units.

“We also use a pop-up fertilizer when we plant corn. That always seems to help, especially in a year like this when we’re running behind anyway. We usually treat corn as if we weren’t getting any nitrogen from the chicken litter, but I know now that we are. We can definitely tell a difference where we apply the litter.”

Late planting forces decisions

While Lindsey prefers to start planting corn by the middle of March, it wasn’t possible this year due to excessive rainfall. He plants his fall corn crop at around mid-July, behind produce, using the same varieties as in his spring crop. He planted some last year in August and still averaged more than 100 bushels per acre with Dekalb 64-69.

“We don’t have nearly as much invested in the fall corn crop, about $300 per acre versus $700 to $800 in the spring. We’ve got a lot of fertilizer left over from the produce crop, so we try to maximize the use of it with a second corn crop. Corn is also a good rotational crop.”

Lindsey says he was about a month behind normal planting corn this year, but he plans to make up for it this fall.

“It’ll open the door for more corn acres in the fall, probably double the number of acres we usually plant. We shoot for 150 bushels per acre from our fall crop. Some of our spring crop was planted in March and some in early April, but it all seems to be catching up now,” said Lindsey in mid-May.”

He plants all DeKalb corn varieties and likes its growth habit.

“It makes a shorter stalk which has excellent standability and seems to have the best grades. We didn’t dry any down last year, and everything we harvested was at 14 ½ to 15 ½ moisture. It just all fell into place last year.”

His entire corn crop is irrigated by center pivots drawing from wells. The risks involved in dryland production are just too great, says Lindsey.

“Each of the farms we work has a well on it. I’d prefer to water corn and peanuts at night, especially when I’m setting a crop. From about waist-high to tasseling, we make sure the corn gets about 3 inches of water each week. Rain drowned out some of our cotton last year, but we were finished with corn by that time.”

Overall, Lindsey’s corn yields averaged from 275 to 325 bushels per acre in 2013.

He stored about 50,000 bushels of corn last year for several months, but it didn’t help much with the price he received.

“If we put some in the bins this year, it might help us get a better basis and maybe a break on freight costs. The only advantage to storing last year was in not having to wait on trucks – we just had two trucks running from the field to the bins.”

Lindsey says the only major change he has made in his corn crop this year is going from single to twin rows.

“We’re still planting 36,000 to 38,000 seeds per acre. In the spring, we’re planting corn strip-till, but behind produce, we have to harrow the land anyway. For the fall crop this year I’ll pull up the plastic from the produce, harrow the ground to get it level, and then strip-till. If the ground is wet, we might put it on a bed, but I’d just as soon strip-till as much as I can.”

He normally harvests his second corn crop around the end of November.