UPDATE: Checking In on Jim Case’s Multi-Hybrid Ohio Harvest

Another shot of Jim Case and Nate Long in action during fall harvest 2016.
Another shot of Jim Case and Nate Long in action during fall harvest 2016.

YOU VERY WELL may remember central Ohio grower Jim Case from a cover story in Precision Ag Special Reports that ran back in February.

We received quite a few reader comments on the story detailing Jim’s foray into variable hybrid placement with the Kinze MH4900 multi-hybrid planter, his being the only one in operation in the Buckeye State currently aside from Ohio State University Agricultural Engineering program John Fulton’s down in Columbus. Folks liked the fact that Jim was not another “celebrity farmer” that had already been extensively featured throughout the ag media sphere, and that he was making practical, on-the-ground use of an emerging technology at a time when many others remained in wait-and-see mode on multi-hybrid planting.

So, with harvest just getting underway here in the Corn Belt — the non-GMO corn field we visited in Delaware County, OH, that Jim’s farm manager Nate Long was dutifully harvesting was the duo’s first corn field harvest this season — we decided to head back down to Jim’s operation and get a sense for how things turned out in their second year with the multi-hybrid cropping system.

Talking with the two, Case and Long both said they “didn’t change things a whole lot this year” from what they’d done in 2015, but they did increase their selection pool of management zones from three to five, and with that they enjoyed a bit more choice in Year Two on hybrid pairs than in 2015.

“We had a chance this year to tailor our hybrids a little more,” Case shared as he and Long prepared to traverse the field — Jim in a Case Magnum tractor pulling a Kinze grain cart and Long in the mammoth Case 7230 combine. “Last year we kind of just had to take what hybrids we had, and we had a lot of rain here this year, around 15 inches in a three and a half week time frame, so that hurt us early on (with yield) right after we had planted, we haven’t had a chance to analyze the data yet but things look fairly good considering what we dealt with (this season).”

Farm manager Nate Long takes his seat behind the wheel of this Case IH 7230 combine.
Farm manager Nate Long takes his seat behind the wheel of this Case IH 7230 combine.

And what about that management zone tweak they employed this year? According to Long, it’s a matter of field size and bringing out the spatial variability in the field itself.

“The bigger fields, like this one we’re in now, we’ve found that if you bump it up to five zones you’ll be able to pick out a high zone that’s over here in this little corner that you can take advantage of — change the hybrid, change the population — and you can take advantage of that,” he explains. “Some of the smaller fields, three zones works and in others it just jumbles everything up and doesn’t work real well. But I did take those five zones and exported them out and made my own soil testing maps where I can take those zones and divide them by soil type and texture, and you just get more detail into what’s going on with those hybrids in that area of the field. The more information the better.”

Another lesson that the 2016 season taught the duo is that planting populations can have a great effect on a field’s final output.

“Populations in these multi-hybrid planting systems is a big thing,” Case replies when asked for any tips he may have for growers looking to implement multi-hybrid planting on their operations. “Make sure you tailor your population to the hybrid. We noticed last year in our test plots there was a significant yield advantage when you tailored your population, so we kind of honed in on that this year.”

Farm manager Nate Long in the cab as he traverses the field during fall harvest 2016.
Long in the cab as he traverses the field during fall harvest 2016.

Long also shared an interesting practice he tried out for the first time on the farm this summer.

“Typically as growers we look at a corn field and we plant it and then fertilize it and just hope for the best,” he explained. “Well I wanted to go a little bit further, so I went out every Friday at noon this first year and wrote down the GDUs, what the plant looked like, and I went to the same zone in our fields and pulled tissue samples and recorded and charted all that data onto an Excel spreadsheet. We did a little bit of a late season application of nitrogen, not too much, just enough to see how long it took to get into the plant, and from that information I’ve got a base I can go off next year so we can get our planning going and just add more management to it.”

What else does the duo have cooking for 2017? We’ll just have to wait and see.

Jim Case pulls his Kinze grain cart across the field to get into position for corn harvest.
Case pulls his Kinze grain cart across the field to get into position for corn harvest.

“We didn’t make any big changes in these first two years, but we might tweak things a little more this coming year because we’ll have two years of data built up,” Case reasoned before heading off in his semi-trailer to tend to his many other fields. “Ideally we’d probably like to have three years of data before we start making some really major changes, but I think we can tweak things a little bit — maybe it’s the way we make our management zones, or it could be seeding rates or fertilizer timing, or down pressure on our planter at planting. There’s just a lot of things we’ve got to look at when we get that data collected, and analyzed and sorted out.”

But first things first, right Jim? And as many of us already know, in the fall in the Midwest, harvest always comes first.

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