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January 29, 2013

Timmons brothers take on corn production challenges

Parsons, Kansas — Big corn yields don’t come easy — especially when the rain gods get stingy.

Near Fredonia, Kan., Bob and Mike Timmons position themselves to make the most of precious precipitation and capture those big yields whenever possible.

It’s a farming fact of life that dry times are common during southeast Kansas summers so at Timmons Brothers Farms they don’t rely on luck.

“We do our best to do our part — doing a good job of planting, fertilizing and protecting the crop from weeds and pests,” says Mike. “The weather is always the factor we can’t control but we can be prepared.”

Corn wasn’t always a mainstay for the Timmons family but it had pretty much bumped milo to join soybeans and wheat in the rotation by 1987. Starting with early-planted, short-season hybrids, they found improving seed genetics were delivering hybrids that produced as well or better than milo in dry weather without the yield limitations when conditions were favorable.

And those hybrids continue to improve, they say. Hybrid selection is the foundation of their corn operation and the key, Mike says, is continually upgrading the seed they put in the planter.

“We don’t get married to them,” he explains. “On average, we probably use a hybrid for about three years — five at the most. Our seed dealer knows our operation and if he and the company people think a new hybrid has potential for us, we jump on it because they know what they’re doing.”

The Timmons brothers’ seedsman is Pioneer Hi-Bred seed dealer Leon Weber from Yates Center, Kan. Weber talent scouts new hybrids and, two years ago, he recommended that Bob and Mike try one of the company’s new Optimum AQUAmax hybrids.

The Timmons brothers planted six bags and, with their 24-row planter, they planted 12 rows with AQUAmax 1151 side-by-side with another Pioneer number they had been using. To broaden the comparison, the two hybrids were planted on both irrigated and dryland.

“In a fairly extreme drought, the AQUAmax made 70 to 80 bushels per acre dryland compared to about 25 for the other hybrid,” Bob explains. “On irrigated ground the AQUAmax yielded 210 bushels per acre compared to barely 200.”

“We thought overall plant health was better with the AQUAmax,” Mike adds, “and what we really liked was that, while it yielded better in dry conditions, we didn’t sacrifice yield on the irrigated ground where drought was less of a factor.”

AQUAmax hybrids are bred to minimize risk and maximize productivity in water-limited environments. Among other mechanisms, they employ stomatal control to conserve excess water use and photosynthesis maintenance to help the leaf area stay green and productive during heat and drought stress.

Bob and Mike are under no illusion that any hybrid is drought-proof but they know from experience some hybrids tolerate dry weather more successfully than others.

“The AQUAmax hybrid hung in there in hot, dry weather,” Mike notes. “Last year we planted as much as we could get and it did very well again. This year we want to try a 103-day AQUAmax hybrid planted early and we’re excited about the possibilities.”

The Timmons brothers aren’t just trying to eke-out acceptable yields, they’re going for outstanding production whenever feasible.

Recently, they earned recognition for the second-highest irrigated yield in the state in the National Corn Growers Yield Contest. Their entry, Pioneer P1522HR, produced 278 bushels per acre.

Operating on irrigated ground, dryland upland, dryland bottomland, the Timmonses try to match hybrids with the growing environment but they also know that seed genetics are just one part of the corn yield equation.

All farm ground is soil-sampled every other year in 2.5-acre grids by Record Harvest. With their Ag Leader-controlled variable rate dry spreader, they’re able to put out the right amount of phosphorus and potassium to maximize yields without wasting money.

“By testing, we actually have ended up putting on less P and K than we did when we were using standard rates,” comments Bob. “We also variable rate our lime it’s saved us a lot of money.”

The bulk of the nitrogen goes on as anhydrous ammonia after soils have cooled in winter.

Shortly after harvest, a vertical tillage disk is used to stir residue in the top couple of inches to allow the soil to dry and warm-up faster for spring planting.

“We take planting pretty seriously,” Bob says. “We plant at 5.2 miles per hour. That seems pretty slow but it’s the optimum speed for our planter. We think it’s important to get even spacing and uniform depth for even emergence.

“We want the seed at least 1 and a half inches — if it’s too shallow, we don’t get proper root formation.”

Planting in 30-inch rows, Bob and Mike have been able to increase populations as hybrids have improved. Currently, they drop 26,000 to 27,000 seeds per acre on upland fields and up to 32,000 seeds per acre on irrigated ground.

“A few years ago that would have been crazy,” Mike says, “but these hybrids have enough drought resistance that there’s no advantage to planting thin.”

Like many area producers, the Timmons brothers are wrestling with glyphosate-resistant waterhemp. Establish is their primary corn herbicide but if they have weed escapes they will apply Status or atrazine postemerge.

The often-overlooked part of corn production is all the issues that happen far from the farm.

As active members of the Kansas Corn Growers Association they support efforts to broaden markets and overcome production limitations.

“It’s not just the weather that affects our bottom-line,” says Bob who is currently the president of the Kansas Corn Growers Association. “There are a lot of issues and they change rapidly.”

In Topeka, Washington, D.C., or just north of Fredonia, Kan., Bob and Mike Timmons are corn growers who are constantly looking for better ways to economically achieve those big yields. £

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