Alabama Corn: How One Family Snagged Irrigated AND Dryland Yield Titles

    Alabama Irrigated and Dry Land Corn Champs (L-R) Jackson, Chad and Mike Henderson, Stuart Sanderson

    Alabama corn champions Henderson Farms in Madison, just below Huntsville, topped the National Corn Growers Association state contest in both the irrigated (305.7 bushels per acre) and the non-irrigated categories (232.7 bushels per acre).

    The Henderson family – Mike Henderson along with son Chad Henderson and nephew Stuart Sanderson – accomplished the feat on the heavy red north Alabama clay soils. It is so sticky that after a rain you will be several inches taller after walking the field.

    Chad’s son Jackson, who is still in high school, runs the grain carts and helps after school, and this summer will join the farming operation full-time after graduation.

    Chad and Stuart are students of the crop, always striving for higher yields and looking at ways to make their farming operation more efficient. Their state winning irrigated yield was with Pioneer 2089YHR on thirty-inch rows with a seeding rate of 40,000.

    Here are factors that matter to them in their corn program:

    Planting when the soil is right. “Three years ago we planted by the date rather than the conditions,” says Chad. “The soil was wet and we had sidewall compaction. I don’t think farmers sometimes grasp how big a difference there is in plant growth and yield when they plant in less than ideal conditions. I could see it on the combine, spindly stalks and up to 40 bushels difference on the yield monitor, when I harvested these areas in the field. We want all the seeds to germinate and emerge within less of a day, twelve hours would be better.”

    Keeping the planter in good shape. “You want to make sure your planter is in top-notch condition.”

    Including the starter fertilizer package in the program. They will further fine-tune their starter program this year. This past year they applied three gallons per acre in-furrow of an 8-16-11-2 with micronutrients and seven gallons per acre of 10-34-0 two inches deep and two inches beside the row. This year they will apply 10 gallons of 28-0-0-5 and five gallons of 10-34-0 with a micronutrient package in a two-three inches band on both sides of the row two inches deep (half of the mixture on each side of the row).

    Chad says, “We have a high phosphorus level in our soils so we are cutting back on the 10-34-0 and increasing our nitrogen and sulfur. We feel like getting enough nitrogen and sulfur out early is important to get that seedling off to a great start but we want to have some readily available phosphorus close to the seedling in our cooler soils in the spring.”

    They learn the hard way that not all micronutrients would mix with starter fertilizers, Chad says, and advises growers to do a jar test before mixing any micronutrients with starters.

    Metering nitrogen to the crop. They applied a total of 300 pounds of nitrogen to produce 305 bushels of corn, an efficiency of less than one pound of nitrogen per bushel of corn. They were able to improve their nitrogen efficiency by fertigating through the irrigation pivot with multiple applications of 28-0-0-5.

    Their last fertigation application came at tasseling. “You can’t just throw nitrogen out and expect a yield increase,” Stuart notes. “It starts with knowing your soil so you can decide on the right nutrient program. Your soil sample results and weekly in-season tissue samplings are vital to a high yield program.”

    Taking tissue samples: Weekly tissue samples was a revelation for them. The two nutrients the tissue samples showed they were short on in their 300-bushel corn were sulfur and magnesium. Their nitrogen-to-sulfur ratio was also out of balance. A nitrogen to sulfur ratio of 10:1 to 15:1 is best for optimum yields and at ear leaf their nitrogen to sulfur ratio was 18:1 to 20:1, something they plan to correct in 2017.

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    They are striving to produce 300 bushels on every acre under irrigation, Chad says. They irrigate by plant-water usage and knowing their evapotranspiration. “It’s important not to let the plant stress at any stage,” he adds. “Anytime the plant stresses you are potentially losing yield. We plan our irrigation to stay ahead of plant usage.”

    Input are not going down, they are steadily going up, Stuart sasy, “so our only option is to increase our yields.

    Irrigation matters in multiple ways. Irrigation also gives them a marketing edge, he points out. “We can do a better job of marketing our corn if we can depend on higher irrigated yields. We have the option of taking advantages of weather scares during the growing season and booking more corn.”

    Fungicides are insurance. This input may not pay every year but they lean towards preventing diseases from becoming established and severely reducing yields. That includes southern corn rust and northern corn leaf blight. “Normally, we apply a fungicide to our dry land corn but this year it was burning up and we didn’t,” Stuart explains.

    Their Dryland Corn Formula

    With it’s dryland corn win, the farm recorded a 232.7 bushel per acre average with Pioneer 1319 and a seeding rate of 28,000 per acre. They only applied 170 pounds of nitrogen on their dryland corn and had an extremely efficient nitrogen use rate of 0.73 pounds of nitrogen per bushel of corn.

    Besides reduced fertilizer use to match their yield potential on their non-irrigated, they use the same basic production practices as their irrigated corn except weed control.

    They ran a do-all in front of their planter so the ground is clean. Their dry land corn was non-GMO, so they used Roundup, Dual and Leadoff at burndown and came back with Capreno at layby. They had more flexibility with their irrigated Roundup Ready corn. They used the same burndown program, then applied Roundup and Atrazine at preemergence, and followed up with Roundup and Atrazine at V3-4.

    “The key to one post-emergence herbicide application is to start clean and getting the plants to grow fast and shade out the weed,” Stuart specifies. “We were fortunate that we got some timely rains after planting and got spectacular emergence and early growth. Another key to excellent weed control is having the sprayer capacity to get over your crop before the weeds get too big to control.”

    Even with all their yield success, Chad and Stuart see opportunities for increased yields. They are working with Alabama Extension with replicated trials in high-yield potential fields to see if they can eliminate their sulfur and magnesium deficiencies and improve yields. They have adopted the 4-H motto, “To make the best, better”.

    2016 Alabama Corn Yield Contest Winners

    Listed by grower, location, hybrid planted and bushels-per-acre yield.

    * Farmer has a higher yield recorded, maybe in another category.


    1. Stuart Sanderson, Madison, Pioneer 1319, 232.7
      *Jason Weber, Atmore, Pioneer 1197YHR,196.4
    2. Mike Tate Meridianville Pioneer 1637YHR  192.3

    No-Till/Strip-Till Non-Irrigated

    1. Jason Weber, Atmore, Dekalb 65-19, 229.3
    2. Jerry Ward, Dozier, Pioneer 1319HR, 199.4
    3. Gregory Key, Arab, AgriGold 6499VT2/RIB, 166.2

    No-Till/Strip-Till Irrigated

    1. Nick McMichen, Centre, Dekalb 62-08, 284.9
    2. Jeff Tate, Meridianville, Pioneer 1257YHR,  270.1
    3. Seth Moore, Aliceville, Pioneer 1197YHR, 247.6


    1. Chad Henderson Madison Pioneer 2089YHR 305.7
    2. Michael Dehazo Headland Dekalb 62-08 293.6
      *Chad Henderson, Madison, Dekalb 64-87, 286.5
    3. Brooks Hayes, Headland, Cropland 6640VT3P/RIB, 282.4

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