Nitrogen efficiency key to yield contest winner’s success

Gary Prescher, Delavan, Minn., was recently named a state winner in the National Corn Growers Association’s (NCGA) “National Corn Yield Contest”. Prescher attributes his success to a long-term commitment to improved land and crop management practices; more specifically, soil health through improved drainage, in season crop monitoring with nitrogen, and fertility management.

Back in 2010, Prescher was examining his fields and considering additional ways to improve both consistency and productivity year-to-year. As an agronomist, Prescher began to prioritize. He installed a tile system to improve drainage where needed, and used grid sampling to identify areas with deficient soil fertility.

“This doesn’t happen overnight,” says Prescher. “It was and still is a long-term commitment to really getting to know the soil in each field to manage micro-environment variability required for optimum soil health.”

The improved drainage and soil fertility, over time, paid off. Prescher started seeing results in a difficult 2012 growing season, when he noticed his soybeans yields had improved dramatically. The following year, he noticed improvement in his corn yields.

“Once I had consistent drainage and detailed soil fertility maps in place, I was able to build on those fundamentals,” says Prescher.

Over the years, in collaboration with the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) and local retailers, Prescher tested many different in season nutrient management practices. These include using nitrogen rate trials to fine tune rates and timing practices, and monitoring in season soil nitrate levels through grid sampling remote sensing.

Then using the University of Minnesota Nitrogen Management Best Management Practices (BMP’s), Prescher worked to improve yield and maximize use nitrogen efficiency.

“Right product, right rate, right time, right place,” says Prescher, when talking about nitrogen management. “It was really about following the BMP’s for my area, monitoring the data, and adjusting rates and timing to best fit the crop and soil needs at that particular time.”

Those adjustments led Prescher to harvest his first NCGA contest yield at 288.6431 bushels per acre. It was also the winner of the AA Non-Irrigated category of the 2016 NCGA Corn Yield Contest. Prescher says the only other changes he made in his winning field was to move from a 107 day hybrid to a 110 day hybrid due, in part, to the improved drainage and also a timely start to the growing season.

“Weather is always a factor. In 2016 we really had great growing conditions to work with,” says Prescher.

Higher yields weren’t the only benefit Prescher has noted in his fields over the past seven years. Increased nitrogen use efficiency has improved his return on investment, helping his bottom line while minimizing environmental impacts.

“We’re doing a better job of managing the crop and our soil from planting through harvest, rather than just planting, killing the weeds and then focusing on the harvest,” says Prescher. “I see many farmers in my area trying these types of management practices, being innovative in their approach, and improving sustainability.”

To learn more about the National Corn Yield Contest, click here.

Meghan Doyle