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Consistently a cut above

As industry experts expect strong statistics this season, Tennessee farmers once again count on Croplan hybrids for proven performance during harvest
Story by Sarah Geyer, photos by Glen Liford and Sarah Geyer 11/17/2017


Producers across the state are seeing what ag industry experts have predicted since early summer: near-record-setting corn yield averages. John Litz, above, a row-crop producer in Morristown who farms 3,000 acres in Jefferson, Hamblen, Cocke, and Hawkins Counties, including 425 acres of corn, says some of his corn fields have topped above 250 bushels per acre on land that, during a moderate year, would reach an average of 150. He credits this year’s numbers to early rainfall, a good stand from the start, proper fertilization, and seed genetics.
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As of press time (Oct. 30), combines and pickers across Tennessee are running at full-throttle as farmers wrap up their corn harvest and continue to progress with the harvesting of their soybean and cotton crops.

Even though it’s too early for final statistics, agriculture industry experts continue to estimate near record-setting numbers for Tennessee’s 2017 corn production. According to an Oct. 12 U.S. Department of Agriculture National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) report, the state’s corn harvest is anticipated to reach 170 bushels per acre, nearly 20 bushels more than 2016’s crop.

“Although the weather can vary from one end of the state to the other, for this growing season, Tennessee, overall, had very favorable rains in June and July, which usually results in excellent corn yields,” says Bill Epps, Tennessee Farmers Cooperative agronomy division manager. “Early rains delayed planting for soybeans, but the growing conditions were good, and harvest is well underway. The growing season for cotton included good moisture and lower than normal heat units. Harvest is slow due to rainfall.”

With the corn harvest nearly complete and soybean and cotton harvest underway, Bill says producers are reporting that

Co-op’s proprietary brand of seed, Croplan™ by WinField United, is once again a top performer on farms across the state.

“Our partnership with WinField United has been a win-win for both our member Co-ops and our farmers,” he says. “The

Co-ops can recommend hybrids and varieties with confidence, and the growers are seeing consistently high performance from their crops.”

One such farmer is John Litz of Morristown, who raises 3,000 acres of row crops, including 425 acres of corn — all of it planted with Croplan.

“This year’s corn crop looks exceptional,” he says. “I’ve never raised a corn crop like this.”

In fact, says the row-crop producer, the first three fields he cut averaged more than 250 bushels per acre.

“The very first field we cut, it’s 25 acres, we averaged 241 bushels,” says John. “Then we cut the second field, 52 acres, and averaged 251 bushels. We were pretty happy at that point and then we cut another field, and the monitor showed 277.”

John says he typically sees around 150 bushels per acre on these fields, but credits this year’s numbers to genetics — he plants hybrids 5290 and 6640 — solid management practices and rainfall. The latter can be tricky for the farmer since he raises crops on land covering a 40-mile radius in Jefferson, Hamblen, Cocke, and Hawkins Counties.

“It was really dry here at home [Morristown], but the corn is planted in a pocket of about four miles, and this area got rains when nobody else got them which, I think, really helped push up those yields,” he says. “We were extremely fortunate in that we did get that rainfall and we had the fertilization and the chemicals underneath that crop that got it to that point.”

As for crop management, John says he and Mark Pettit, manager of Jefferson Farmers Cooperative, spend at least a half day each year talking about the next season’s crops and choosing which hybrids and varieties, fertilization, and chemicals to use.

“Mark wanted to try a different blend instead of just Glyphosate 4 for burn down,” says the farmer. “I know he added some 2, 4-D and Atrazine to it. Then he fertilized it with 175 units of nitrogen. Later, I added 70 more units with a fertilizer buggy over the top of it, and we never sprayed it again — but that corn is just as clean as it was if you had sprayed it a dozen times.”

John says he depends heavily on Mark for advice, especially when it comes to new genetics and chemicals.

“There aren’t many people you trust with your wallet,” he says, “but Mark is one of them. You depend on people you trust. I can’t think of anybody else that I’ve ever traded with that I would trust more, and that is important to me.”

The two met as students at the University of Tennessee and have remained friends for four decades.

“Yes, we’ve been friends for a long time, but business and friendship are two different things,” says Mark. “As the manager of Co-op, I’m a partner with John. He trusts me to help make the best decisions for his farm, and that makes me feel good.”

The McDaniels — father David and his sons Johnathan, Jeffrey, and Joe — together farm nearly 6,400 acres of row crops in Tipton County. Just over 1,500 of those acres are corn.

They’ve planted two Croplan hybrids, 5678 and 6640. The 5678 is a new hybrid introduced this year and so far is doing well, says Joe, adding the family is especially pleased with the performance of 6640. They first planted the hybrid four years ago, and they have steadily increased the acreage each year.

He says 6640 is a go-to for them because of its versatility, an important quality with their farm’s acreage, which includes hills, bottom ground, and some irrigated land.

“We saw great results from the start,” says Joe. “On one of the first farms we shelled it a little wet — 150 or 160 bushels is probably the best that farm has ever done — but by the time you figure it dry, it was over 210 bushels.”

On dry hills, says Johnathan, they consider 150 bushels an acre as good.

“This year,” he explains, “those dry hills planted with 6640 are bumping 200 bushels or a little better.”

Joe says they’ll definitely increase the acreage they plant with 6640 next year, too.

“The yield was good on other company hybrids we planted, but our best test weights have been with the Croplan this year.”

Rector Miller, with the help of his son Matthew, started their cattle business in 2005. They run a cow/calf operation with 300 mamas on 850 acres in LaFollette, where they reside, and in Knox County. They also background 150 heifers a year and as many steers as they could feed. When Matthew joined the farming operation full-time last year after graduating from Lincoln Memorial University, he had one thing in mind: growing the backgrounding business.

“Of course the feed source is number one when you’re trying to expand,” says Rector. “You can’t grow [your cattle operation] if you don’t grow crops.”

They increased the acreage of their hay — 450 acres— and corn crops — 75 acres with 25 for shelling and 50 for silage. More importantly, says Rector, they improved their entire crop management program with help from Sidney Jessee of Knox Farmers Cooperative, who offered advice on seed choice and fertilizer options.

“When choosing a corn hybrid for silage, you want something that is going to make tonnage and digestibility,” explains Sidney, manager of Knox Farmers’ Asheville Highway location. “I suggested Croplan 8627. It puts on a nice ear, good stalk strength, and good quality.”

Prior to planting the corn, the Co-op applied 120 units of nitrogen and micronutrients and then the Millers top-dressed the crop with 60 more units of nitrogen. Sidney also suggested using NutriSphere and Avail.

“With an average of nearly 30 tons per acre,” says Sidney, “the Millers proved that when you combine the right seed with the right fertilizer ingredients and get enough water, you’ll get the yield.”

Unlike last year, Matthew says his crops received ample rain this growing season.

“Sidney has a saying that he’ll handle the fertilizer and the seed, and I can worry about the rain,” says Matthew. “I guess I did all right this year.”

As for the state’s soybean and cotton crops, industry experts are predicting favorable yields for both. The Oct. 12 report from NASS indicates expected average yields for beans to reach 50 bushels an acre, up 5 bushels from last year. Average cotton yields are estimated to decrease slightly to 1,045 pounds per acre, down 59 pounds from 2016.

John Litz and the McDaniels both raise Croplan soybeans, and even though the farmers are just beginning to cut their crops, they are already seeing promising results.

John plants his entire soybean crop — 2,400 acres — with Croplan 4752 seed.

“I’m expecting them to be at least 70 bushels an acre, and they are coming up pretty close to what we had estimated. I’ve even seen a field make in the low 80s.”

He says that in a moderate year, his soybean yields usually average between 50 and 60 bushels.

“The weather usually doesn’t effect beans like it does corn,” says John. “Beans are a lot more forgiving and continue to bloom even in dry conditions.”

The McDaniels, long-time members of Tipton Farmers Cooperative, are raising just over 3,300 acres of soybeans, including a field that will be used for Croplan seed.

“They’ve been slow about maturing but other than that, it’s a good crop,” says Joe. “We’re really just getting started, but what we have cut so far has been good.”

Although they usually plant earlier beans, this year they planted just 4s and 5s, says Joe, including several new Xtend varieties, recommended by Justin Gangaware with Tipton Farmers Co-op, including 4836, 4656, and 5136.

“On these old hills, we’re seeing 50-bushel beans where we’d normally see 35 or 40 bushels,” says Johnathan. “So far, we’ve been pleased with our yields, but we’ve got a ways to go before we’ll see those final numbers.”

There’s still a long harvest road ahead for the McDaniels this season. For the first time in two years, the McDaniels are also raising cotton — nearly 2,000 acres of it.

The seed varieties the family had used in the past are no longer manufactured, so the four farmers decided to plant several as a test to help make decisions for next year.

Of the varieties, Johnathan says Croplan has been the biggest surprise, even though, as of Oct. 13, they had only begun their harvest.

“We just started picking our Croplan 3475 and were extremely pleased with it,” he explains. “It picked good and it picked clean. It was on some pretty decent ground, too.”

Even though it hasn’t been ginned yet, Joe says the weight for just a little over two bales was around 1,100 pounds.

“It’s too early to say for sure,” he says, “but I feel pretty confident we will be growing Croplan cotton next year.”

Though past performance of Croplan hybrids is a good measure of future potential,

Co-op agronomists warn that next year’s seed decisions shouldn’t be based on yield alone but rather a comprehensive plan that addresses each grower’s specific situation. When making plans for the 2018 season, they urge growers to look at WinField United’s Answer Plot data and talk with Co-op representatives to match the right hybrids and varieties to the right conditions. Intensive management practices and precision technology available through local Co-ops help bolster crop quality.

For more information, visit or talk with your Co-op agronomist.

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