Call it a holistic approach to corn farming. Care for the land, and the crop will take care of you. "We've used a total management program, Farm for Profit, since 1983," says Dale Schleder. "It lets us reduce input costs while maximizing yield, quality and profit." Schleder and son Mark have won 11 Illinois corn yield contest titles. A national win, a long-sought goal, came in 1999 with 237 bu./acre.
On April 27, following soybeans, they planted Novartis N6800 at 32,000 seeds/acre; they harvested 30,500 plants/acre. They got 0.5" rain every time it was needed for 27" during the season; moderate temperatures helped, too.
Ridge-tillers since 1990, the Schleders work to control traffic compaction and reduce herbicide rates. Planting on the ridge knocks tiny weeds into the valley and provides a dry, warm area for germination. Cultivation when the crop is 12" to 18" tall cleans out weeds while rebuilding the ridge. Post-emergence sprays of 3 pt. Leadoff and 4 oz. Banvel were their only herbicides. Biologicals used to emulate a four-crop rotation help keep the soil vital. The Schleders say these live colonies of good microbes eat harmful hydrocarbons left in the soil by chemical applications.
They used no insecticides on the plot. "Healthy soil makes for healthy plants, and they can withstand a little insect pressure," says Dale. Fertilizer needs are reduced too. The Schleders applied a total of 125 units nitrogen, 6 units phosphorus and 6 units potash. "A 3-18-18 starter is one of the most profitable inputs we use," says Mark. "We plant high populations in early spring, when the soil needs help releasing nutrients. Splitting the nitrogen lets us reduce it by 15%, and soybeans also contribute." The second application of nitrogen goes on during ridging.
Winners of the Illinois Corn Growers Environmental Action Award in 1996, the Schleders identity-preserve their grain and submit it to third-party certification for pesticide residues. They use no genetically modified seeds. Soils also get third-party hydrocarbon screening. "Through testing, we balance growing a good-quality product and a high quantity of food with judicious use of chemicals and fertilizers," says Mark. "This contest has helped us establish that we can produce high yields with low inputs."