David Hula is no stranger to breaking yield records. The Virginia farmer has topped the NCGA National Corn Yield Contest five times since 2003 in the strip, min, mulch, ridge-till irrigated category. The previous world record of 542 bushels per acre, set by Hula in 2017, has been shattered by his 2019 yield of 616.1953 on ground he strip-tills with the SoilWarrior.
“Our best emergence was where we ran the SoilWarrior,” says Hula. “We also had our best yields this year where we were running the strip-till equipment.”
While growing high yields obviously requires more than the right piece of equipment, precision placement of fertilizer, and a new tillage method, he is impressed with how much value these changes have added to his operation so quickly.
Fueling ROI with Fertilizer Placement
An avid no-tiller since 1986, Hula is always on the lookout for ways to push the envelope with yields. He ran across the SoilWarrior by Environmental Tillage Systems at the Ag PhD Field Day in Baltic, S.D. a few years ago, and it got his mind turning.
Switching to strip-till offered him the opportunity to increase yield potential without jeopardizing return on investment (ROI) or soil health. The ability to precisely place fertilizer and create an optimal seedbed in one pass were two key reasons Hula decided to give the system a try.
“We're only tilling about a 7-inch band of our soil, leaving the rest of it on our 30-inch rows in a no-till environment. Then adding a little bit of fertilizer, some humic acid and other micronutrients as we go,” says Hula. “Our ride is so much smoother. Our seed placement is even better, and we're getting that uniform emergence.”
By using variable-rate technology for precise fertilizer placement and only applying fertilizer in the tilled area of the field, Hula is able to feed the crop exactly where it is growing. This doesn’t necessarily mean he uses less; it just helps ensure efficiency. This way, every dollar he spends on crop nutrition precisely fuels performance.
“Growers can't afford to over fertilize, and we sure don't want to,” says Hula, who knows he has a good crop by the way it comes out of the ground. “If corn comes up within six, seven days and so many GDUs from the time we plant with even emergence, then we know we have an opportunity to do something special. We got that picket row fence stand on strip-till acres.”
Less Maintenance, More In-Field Efficiency
In addition to its agronomic benefits, the SoilWarrior offers Hula peace of mind. The system is durable, easily rolling over rocks in his sandy loam soil at speeds of 8-10 miles per hour. It requires little maintenance throughout the season, which means fewer stops and more efficiency in the field.
“The thing we're seeing with this machine is there's not a whole lot of daily maintenance to it. We've run it on some coarse sandy loam soils, and the life of the blades is much better than I expected,” says Hula. “I've seen a lot of other strip-till equipment out there and none are nearly as well built as the SoilWarrior.”
Environmental and Economic Advantages
The land Hula farms is some of the oldest in the nation, dating back to the early 1600s. He’s proud of its history and takes responsibility for protecting it for his son and grandson to farm someday. However, the other side of sustaining the business is ensuring it remains profitable. Strip-tillage offers him the opportunity to do both.
“We're environmentalists and can't afford to let our soil leave the farm. Erosion control is extremely important to everybody because the soil is our resource. We sure don't want to jeopardize it, but we still need to remain profitable,” says Hula. “It’s great when there’s harmony between doing good things environmentally that also have an economic advantage. SoilWarrior is one of the things we're going to continue in 2020.”