When it comes to getting the most out of his crop, Matt Miles is not afraid to push the limits. The Arkansas farmer, who says he prides himself on being willing to think outside the box, has seen his quest for high yields pay off. Miles is a repeat winner of the Arkansas Grow for the Green Soybean Yield Challenge — topping 100 bu/a 13 times. He’s also won the High Yield Soybean Plot at the Hefty Field Day in South Dakota five out of six times. In 2021, he was Arkansas’ overall state winner in the National Corn Yield Contest with a whopping 317.89 bu/a.
“Posting high yields in the contests is nice, but the reason we do this is to experiment with products and practices that will bump our yields across the board,” said Miles, who said he averaged 230 bu/a across his corn fields, which included 40 acres that were completely lost to flooding. Arkansas’ state corn yield average is 180 bu/a.
“Our goal was to make 300 bu/a in corn. If we can get 300 bu/a on an acre, maybe we can get to 300 on a 40-acre field,” he continued. “Of course, you can make all the yield you want, but if it doesn’t ROI, it’s not practical. These contests give us an opportunity to try new things and see what works.”
While Miles insists there is no one “silver bullet” when it comes to achieving high yields, he sat down with us to share practices he and his son, Layne, and consultant Robb Dedman have found beneficial.
Miles’ winning corn hybrid was AgriGold A6659 VT2PRO. Son, Layne won second place in the minimum till irrigated category with 301.77 bu/a with a Dekalb DKC68-69 VT2PRIB hybrid.
The elder Miles’ corn was planted on a farm in Ashley County, Ark., on March 21. The corn was furrow irrigated and grown on a 38-inch bed twin row configuration. Since furrow irrigation prevents him from trying narrow row corn, Miles sees twin row corn as a good alternative, with the configuration allowing him to grow more plants per acre as he pursues higher yields.
“A lot of people don’t believe in twin row, but we feel like we’re picking up 10 bu/a with it. We did a three-year study on the farm, and that was the average yield gain for the twin row corn,” Miles said.
Another key to higher yields — precision planters.
“The planter on corn is one of the biggest things you pay attention to,” Miles said. “Our goal is to get that corn to all emerge in a 12-to-24-hour period. The precision planters are making a difference.”
Fertility management begins as soon as the combine or picker leaves the field on the Miles farm. Consultant Robb Dedman pulls two-acre grid samples on a two-year basis instead of three. He samples half the farm one year, the other half the next. Then, Miles applies one to two tons of poultry litter.
“The fall poultry litter application is really more for convenience. We have time. It’s drier. We’re not rutting up the fields,” Miles said.
“We started using litter in 2006. It’s now our biggest source of phosphorus. Once we get our soil sample analyses back, we’ll determine the additional nutrients we need in the spring. Even with two tons of poultry litter, we’re going to put out some form of potassium in the spring,” he adds.
Miles believes in spoon-feeding nitrogen to corn. He’ll typically make four nitrogen applications per season.
“We start out with pre-plant fertilizer with nitrogen. We’ll run a little sulfur in it when we do that. If we’re going with a flat rate of potash, we’ll put that out then. If we’re doing a variable rate, we’ll do that later.”
“We do two side dress nitrogen applications. Then we’ll come back with 100 pounds of urea as pre-tassel fertilizer to help fill out the kernels.”
“The four different applications of nitrogen throughout the year helps get the nitrogen to the plant when it needs it and also prevents nitrogen from going where you don’t want it to go. We get so many springtime rains that if you frontload your nitrogen or dump a bunch out at one time, you’re not only being inefficient, but that nitrogen is going to go where you don’t want it to go,” he said.
To keep nitrogen where he does want it to go, Miles is a big believer in using Y-drop attachments on his sprayer — saying the practice is more environmentally friendly and improves efficiency.
“We’ve seen what corn is capable of if you can apply inputs at the right time,” he said. “You put inputs out at the wrong time and you’re basically just throwing money away.”
With today’s input prices, it’s certainly not the year to waste anything. High prices could dictate changes in many growers’ fertility management practices and crop mixes. While Miles said he may curb his fertility plan somewhat, he plans to stick with his corn rotation as scheduled.
“We are very big on rotation. We try to not put the same crop in the same field two years in a row,” he said. “We’re hoping to leave our crop mix about the same and just stomach this increase in inputs. There’s a lot of things corn brings to the table, so we want to keep it in rotation.”
Compared to cotton, corn is a newcomer to the Delta, and Miles has only been growing it since 2006. In that time, he’s learned to look at corn production not in terms of gaining yields, but of reducing loss.
“There’s always something in the South that disrupts our corn yields,” said Miles. “The biggest culprit is nighttime temperatures.”
Research from Ohio State University suggests nighttime temperatures in the 70s can reduce corn yield. But in the summer, that’s a nightly occurrence in Miles’ neck of the woods.
“Our heat units can work against us with corn,” Miles said. “You have to reduce stress as much as possible. That starts with good emergence, but we also tissue sample weekly to monitor the crop and assess its needs.”
The Miles farm boasts 800,000 bushels of on-farm storage, and a newly installed mixed-flow dryer. The dryer is another tool for reducing yield loss in corn, as Miles is able to harvest earlier.
“Since there was a premium for September corn this year, we started harvesting at 28% moisture. That’s something I probably wouldn’t do every year, but this year it made sense,” Miles said. “We harvested on average at 24% moisture. I feel like we’re picking up 5 bu/a by harvesting wet and drying on the farm.”
Miles is quick to give credit to others for the farm success, particularly Robb, Layne, his wife, Sherrie and daughter-in-law, Ryane.
“This is such a team effort. We bounce ideas off each other every day. If you have an open mind, you can reach new goals.”
In addition to his on-farm team, Miles is also part of the Xtreme Ag farm team. Xtreme Ag is an online community for growers that allows members to tap into the expertise of other growers, like Miles.
For 2022, Miles will be experimenting with 35 acres of tile drainage — a rarity in the Arkansas Delta. He cites improper drainage as one of the top yield-limiting factors in corn. He’s also trying out new cover crops and will continue to evaluate NutriCharge, a macromolecule that developers claim increases single season phosphorus availability, which is one of the biggest challenges in producing high-yielding corn.
“You’ve just got to have an open mind and try products. Keep up with cost and yield to really see how it’s panning out,” he said. “We’re not going out there trying to throw the kitchen sink at the crop because we have to live.”
“I’ll be honest, a lot of things we try aren’t positive ROI. We fail a lot more than we succeed, but if you never try, you’re never going to find the better way,” he added.
“Is there a magic bullet to high yields? I haven’t found it yet other than timeliness, God providing the weather, and just staying on top of what we’re doing,” he added.
“But I’m going to keep trying.”