They keep crop consultants on speed dial

Del Unger makes no apologies. “We’re corn farmers — that’s what we like to grow and market,” he says. That’s why corn after corn is a big part of their grain operation. The farm has a wide range of soil types, with part of the land irrigated.

Del, his wife, Tammi, son Lance and daughter Adair farm near Carlisle in Sullivan County.

Key Points

When micronutrients are deficient, they can limit yields.

Tissue testing is a regular part of Ungers’ soil fertility program.

Variable-rate applications provide payback.

Inputs are key

The Ungers don’t intend to be low-cost producers. While they don’t spend money on the crop if they don’t feel it’s necessary, their goal is producing good yields, not skimping on inputs. For example, partly because of their location near the Wabash River, where humid weather often prevails in the summer, they routinely schedule aerial application of fungicide on all corn acres.

“What we’re looking for is the highest net return,” Del says. They began using variable-rate technology on fertilizer applications soon after they started recording and studying yield maps in the mid-’90s.

“Working with our crop consultants, we generate fertilizer recommendations, based partly upon yield maps, plus the addition of enough fertilizer to work toward a buildup program.”

The consultants include Betsy Bower and Jeff Nagel, both employees of Ceres Solutions, based in Crawfordsville. Their soil sampling program is typically done on 2.5-acre grids on a four-year rotation.

Pull tissue tests

The Ungers’ goal is 300 bushels per acre, and someday they believe they’ll get there. Tissue testing, especially in irrigated fields, is helping them zero in on what might be limiting factors to higher yields.

The consultants usually pull tissue samples, have them analyzed and then return with the results to work through any necessary adjustments.

“One thing we’ve found is that we need micronutrients in some cases,” Del says. One of the most limited micronutrients on their soils is typically zinc, so they routinely add zinc as part of their program.

“We’ve also seen sulfur deficiency, boron deficiency and even manganese deficiency since we started taking tissue tests,” Del explains. “In our case, sometimes these shortages have been yield-limiting. We’ve begun adding them where recommended, and yields are trending up. We just consider it a cost of production for farming on our soils and aiming for high yields.”

For a few years, Del believes they were reactive, trying to figure out why a field or part of a field didn’t yield as well as they expected.

“Now we’re proactive,” he adds. “Tissue testing is just part of what we do now.”

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Corn farmers: Tammi and Del Unger prefer growing corn, and they invest money on enough inputs to make it profitable.

This article published in the June, 2011 edition of INDIANA PRAIRIE FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2011.