Progressive Farmer — AUGUST 2014
Marcia Zarley Taylor

A Secret of Champions

You can’t nickel and dime yourself to the top. At least that’s Jeremy Jack’s philosophy. The irrigated Belzoni, Miss., grower is a state corn yield champion who believes agronomic management is key to success in farming the Delta.

“Yield is a direct result of management here because we can control so much through irrigation, soil type, drainage and crop rotations,” Jack explains. “You have to stay on top of weed and disease. Management doesn’t promise you a good yield, but without it, you don’t have a chance.”

He rewards most of the agronomic business on the family’s 8,000-acre Silent Shade Planting Co. to his local Sanders dealership. Not only do their agronomists provide on-farm advice on everything from hybrids to land-leveling for irrigation, Jack also gains free access to benchmark his practices and yields against their customer base. In the Delta alone, he can compare his farms down to crop-reporting districts, amounting to several hundred thousand acres each of corn, soybeans and cotton, says Chism Craig, of CrescoAg, Sanders’ precision-farming service.

“In Jeremy’s eight- to 10-county area, irrigated corn yields average about 180 to 185 bushels, but the top 10% are hitting 225 to 230 bushels,” Craig says. “It could be hybrids, fertilizer blends, more seed per acre, planting dates or adequate water. Some of these older irrigation systems in the Delta just don’t have the capacity they need. We try to walk them through the issues.”

Jack’s yield instincts seem on target. A Kansas State University economic analysis compared high-profit, mid-profit and low-profit operations using Kansas Farm Management Association crop enterprise data from 2011 through 2013. What they found was top operators earned $116 to $160 more per acre on non irrigated crops than the bottom third. On irrigated corn, top operators had a $335-per-acre advantage each year over the bottom third.

Yields were key to success: On Kansas irrigated corn, the high-third performers averaged $6.04 per bushel over a three-year period, about a 7% advantage over the low-third that averaged only $5.66. More significantly, the top harvested 67 more bushels per acre on average, a 59% advantage over their least-competitive peers.

Interestingly, actual farm records from the Illinois Farm Business Farm Management Association also confirm yields can lead to championship results. Farms scoring in the high one-third for profitability for 2009–2013 crops averaged higher yields than their peers. They ranged from a 7-bushel-corn advantage in 2013 to a 21-bushel advantage in drought years like 2012. Overall, these top farms showed management returns $214- to $304-per-acre better than their low-profit peers during this five-year period.

About 50% of the profit advantage of the top-third group is due to consistently better yields, the Illinois study concluded. That’s no surprise to Jack. “In the Delta, yields are all over the map.”

Read Marcia’s “Minding Ag’s Business” blog at