Yield Increases

Jeff Coke checks the oil level on his Challenger MT765D as he gets ready for the planting season on his farm in Utica. Coke had one of the highest wheat yields in the state last year.

When it comes to yields, Daviess County farmers are showing the potential of corn, soybeans and wheat each year.

In the 2019 University of Kentucky Extension Yield Contest, local growers were among the state’s top yield producers.

Two Daviess County farms — McKay Farms and PPJ Farms — were state champions in their respective corn categories.

In the white corn, non-irrigated category, PPJ Farms produced a state-best 258.39 bushels per acre. And Fischer CrossCreek Farms took the top soybean award with 101.78 bushels per acre in the non-irrigated division.

For Dennis McKay of McKay Farms, this was the first crop title for the Stanley grower who’s been farming for 40 years.

“It means a lot because you’re learning,” said McKay about being a state champion corn grower. “You’re going into new territory; you don’t know just exactly how far you can go.”

McKay won with a state-best 324.09 bushels per acre in the irrigated corn category. It was accomplished within a 11/4 acre contest plot.

“You never really heard of 300 bushels of corn (per acre) until just a few years ago,” McKay said.

However, if Kentucky farmers can average 200 bushels per acre over their whole farm, they’ll take it.

For McKay, he believes 300 bushels per acre average is attainable because other farmers across the country are reporting even higher yields.

“You hear about a guy in Georgia making 500 and something; another guy in Maryland growing 400 and something and then one guy up in Indiana making like 390,” McKay said. “So I don’t know what we’re capable of.”

In the no-till wheat category, Daviess County farmer Jeff Coke was the Area 2 Green River winner — third overall in the state — with a yield of 114.73 bushels per acre.

“I shoot to have an average of 85 bushels per acre,” Coke said about his wheat yield. “If I can average 85, I’ve had success.”

Coke, however, said he’s doing everything he can to increase his wheat yields.

“We haven’t hit the top yet; we just need the weather to work with us a little more,” Coke said. “…We’re always trying to find something to improve our yields. …My goal is before I die I’m going to have 150 bushels of wheat somewhere.”

Clint Hardy, ag extension agent for Daviess County, said the contest is a knowledge-gain experience.

“The farms that have done these contests multiple years typically grow in the same area of the field — sometimes within the same acreage,” Hardy said. “What that provides is benchmarks for these farms over time to gauge increasing yields.”

Hardy added that the contest has revealed an upward trend for yields.

“The trend-line yield, over the last 10 years, of the highest yield measured in Daviess County reflects about a six-bushel-average increase,” Hardy said.

Multiple factors have contributed to the rising yields.

According to Todd Lee, an agronomist with the University of Kentucky, vast improvements in technology, seed genetics and timing of planting have allowed farmers to go beyond what was previously thought as impossible yields.

“You plant at the right time; you put your nutrients on at the right time; you control your weeds at the right time,” Lee said. “Everything in those fields got done at the right time. For example on weed control, if you’re a week late, you might lose 50 bushels to the acre.”

Lee said efficiencies created by technology have also made a valuable impact.

“Farmers are using GPS guidance on their planters,” he said. “They may have a 24-row plant and they’re shutting off rows independently. So if you have a field that doesn’t have a straight corner and you get into an area that you’re going to be overlapping planter passes, the planter will kick off those rows so you’re not double seeding; the same thing for the sprayers.”

In the yield contest, about 98% of the entries are no-till or minimum-till with no more than two passes, Lee said.

“The minimum till and no till have also made our soils in better shape,” Lee said. “And we don’t get these high yields if our soils aren’t in good shape.”

Don Wilkins, dwilkins@messenger-inquirer.com, 270-691-7299

Don Wilkins, dwilkins@messenger-inquirer.com, 270-691-7299

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