FROM PLANTING TO HARVEST – FOLLOW KELLY’S JOURNEY
The rolling terrain and odd-shaped fields that are common in Western Iowa factored into Kelly Garrett’s decision to install drip irrigation, but it was the idea of getting more income out of the land he already has that made drip irrigation a “no-brainer.” The investment paid off in a big way as Kelly took the National Corn Growers Association Iowa state title (No-Till/Strip-Till) with a yield of 289.720 bu/ac on his drip-irrigated corn. In 2017, we are following Kelly’s progress as he aims to push yields on his drip-irrigated corn even higher.
Iowa Grower Sets His Sights On Breaking Yield Barriers in 2017
Kelly Garrett of Arion, Iowa, took the 2016 NCGA Iowa state title for corn yield in the No-Till/Strip-Till category with a final yield of
289.720 bu/ac on his drip irrigated corn. In 2017, we are following Kelly’s progress as he aims to push yields on his drip-irrigated corn
Kelly Garrett of Arion, Iowa (289.7270 bu/ac – No-Till/Strip-Till Irrigated) recorded yields that outpaced
all other growers in the category to take the top state-level prize in the 2016 annual Corn Yield Contest.
Despite a wet and cool spring, Kelly was able to get his drip-irrigated corn planted by the end of the first week of May.
He planted a population of 42,000 ppa this year and he reports a stand count of 41,000 ppa, with a stand uniformity of 39,000 ppa.
Garrett says that his Netafim SDI is “cheaper than buying more land, you don’t need another planter, you
don’t need more help, you don’t need another combine, you don’t need more seed, worse case scenario is
you need another truck to haul away the bushels. It was a no-brainer for us.”
at a rate of about 15 hundredths of an inch per day. Using the soil moisture probes that are installed in his field, he is able to monitor the soil
moisture levels at varying depths and make real-time adjustments to the rate of delivery based on the immediate needs of his crop. Kelly says
he plans on running his SDI system throughout the majority of the growing season in order to maximize yield potential by maintaining
optimum moisture and nutrient levels.
The Netafim SDI system gives Kelly the piece of mind
that his crop will “never have a bad day.”
of over 350 bu/ac crop. Of course, it’s a long season with a lot of external factors to manage, but he believes that his Netafim SDI system will
allow him to overcome any yield limiting external variables that arise between now and harvest.
Two months into the growing season and Kelly Garrett is getting
excited about the potential of his drip irrigated corn crop.
“I am pretty pleased with the growth thus far in the season. It is a great looking crop that is showing uniform and consistent growth across the entire field,” says Kelly.
Garrett’s drip-irrigated corn fields in Northwest Iowa are off to a great start with uniform growth from
After spending the first part of the growing season delivering a Potash-based nutrient solution to his corn, he has now initiated
nitrogen delivery as the corn plants enter the heavier feeding stages. Using a 32% solution, he says he is applying nitrogen
directly to the crop’s root zone at a rate of about 200 pounds per acre.
Thus far, he has been running his drip system throughout most of the growing season and plans to continue to keep it running,
as needed to maintain optimum soil moisture and nutrient levels.
“We can shut down during rain events and then restart when moisture levels drop again. The ability to micromanage the crop
and correct any moisture or nutrient level issues in a matter of hours, allows us to minimize the amount of stress the plants
endure during the season. Drip is the only type of irrigation method that provides that level of management,” says Kelly.
He has installed a “hard-piped” permanent drip system on the land he owns but has chosen to utilize a Netafim FlexNet system
on the land he leases. The FlexNet system is a flexible piping system that can be rolled out and rolled back up at the end of each
season. Kelly has taken it one step further by mounting a pump, sand media filters and fertigation set-up on a portable flatbed trailer.
“It is great to have a permanent system on the land I own, but it is just not feasible when leasing land. The FlexNet system allows
us to bring the benefits of drip to all of the fields we farm,” says Kelly.
Netafim’s FlexNet is a flexible submain piping solution with leak-proof welded connectors that allows
growers like Kelly to benefit from drip irrigation in fields where a permanent system is not an option.
The portable station pumps water out of a nearby source, runs it through a sand media filtration system
to take out any sediment, injects liquid fertilizer at the prescribed rate and then distributes to the crop
via the buried driplines.
“We can apply one inch of water to a field in 48 hours, and we rotate the irrigation trailer every two days so that all three FlexNet
field locations receive an inch of water per week,” he says.
In addition to his drip-irrigated corn, Kelly also has 90 acres of soybeans on drip. He is very excited about what he sees thus far
with his drip-irrigated bean crop and points to the difference in root structure and overall growth when compared to his dryland
beans. “The difference is dramatic at this point in the season. No question the beans are responding very well to drip irrigation
right now,” he says.
A ‘dramatic’ difference in the growth and root structure of his drip-irrigated beans when compared to
his dryland beans.
Kelly Garrett pictured with his son, is excited about what he sees in his drip irrigated corn crop
The 2016 state yield winner says July is not the time to make any predictions about what harvest will bring, but Kelly Garrett admits
that at this point in the season, his subsurface drip irrigated (SDI) corn crop is looking even better than his award-winning crop from
“We’ve got a lot of the growing season left, and I don’t want to get caught looking too far ahead, but I really like what
I see so far with this year’s corn crop,” said Kelly.
Having just completed an application of nitrogen fertilizer through his subsurface drip system (SDI)
at the rate of 200 lbs/ac he is now delivering .15 inches of water mixed with a Potash solution per day
to the crop.
July in western Iowa can be a challenging time for corn as the summer heat, and unpredictable weather can quickly alter the health
of a crop if not managed properly.
“This is the time of the year when we start to see the weak spots in a crop. The heat stress will wear down the plants at a time when
they need all of their energy to prepare for the VT (tassel) stage of growth,” said Kelly. “With the drip system, if we see a problem
developing in a specific area of the crop, we can immediately take steps to fix it by adjusting water and nutrient levels.”
Kelly also says that increased plant populations make managing the heat stress even more challenging as closer spacing’s results in
more competition among plants for available resources.
“SDI is like an IV for a crop. It gives each plant exactly what it needs, where it needs it most to maintain health and maximize growth
during the toughest parts of the growing season,” says Kelly. “The reduced weed pressure is also a significant factor in minimizing
in-row competition for nutrients and water.”
Kelly’s excitement about this year’s corn crop is rivaled by the progress he sees with his soybeans. “We anticipated that the beans would
respond just as well to drip irrigation based on our experience with corn last year, but seeing is believing and we see some dramatic
differences between our drip irrigated beans and the dryland beans.”
The line where his dryland bean crop meets the drip irrigated bean crop
Five drip irrigated beans on the left versus five dryland beans on the right
He believes that a big reason that his beans are responding so well to drip is due to the more consistent application of fertilizer
that drip allows. “Because we can apply fertilizer in a more precise manner through the driplines, we can get more nutrients to
the plant with less fertilizer when compared to traditional overhead methods of delivery,” he says.
Kelly shows the difference between his dryland bean and his drip irrigated beans where the 2 fields meet.
Kelly says that the amount of fertilizer he would need to use on his dryland beans to get the same result would cost him a fortune.
“With drip, when we irrigate the crop, we are also fertilizing the crop,” says Kelly. “That makes a huge difference.”
“It has been a drier than usual year in this part of the state, and many of the area crops are starting to exhibit signs of stress,” says
Kelly Garrett about the weather challenges that farmers in western Iowa are facing this year.
But, for Garrett, it is a different story as his subsurface drip irrigation system has resulted in a corn and bean crop that is getting some attention
from his neighbors. “As the heat and lack of precipitation take a toll on crops in this area, the dark green color you see in my fields is really
standing out,” says Kelly.
As most crops in the region are showing signs of stress the dark green color and uniform growth of
Kelly’s crop stands out.
Of course, for the 2016 Iowa yield champion, it’s about more than just garnering the attention of his peers. “This is one of those years where
most guys just want to get to the finish line with something to show, and hope for better weather next year,” he says. “The ability to deliver water
and nutrients with such precision through the drip irrigation system has made a difficult year for most into a potential championship year for us.”
“We installed drip on our acres because we did not want to be at the mercy of mother nature in years like this,” he adds.
Just looking at his corn and bean fields is all the proof he needs that he made the right decision to install drip irrigation. “The corn looks better than
it has ever looked, but I think what stands out is the uniformity of the entire field,” says Kelly. “You just don’t see that in a field unless you have
Kelly is done delivering nitrogen to his DynaGro 52SS91 variety corn, but says he will continue to input a bi-product solution through the drip system
throughout the entire grain fill stage. “We know the corn crop received enough nitrogen earlier in the season and now we are spoon-feeding it
through the critical grain fill stage with a mix of nutrients,” he says.
While the crop looks better than ever, he is seeing some spots where he thinks he might be hitting a yield ceiling. “Because we are farming with such
precision, we can isolate specific areas that may have some yield limiting factors that need to be corrected,” says Kelly. “We will have a better idea of
the corrective action required in those areas once we get the final stalk analysis at harvest.”
Kelly says that the ability to spoon-feed water and nutrients through the drip irrigation system has been
a significant factor in producing a soybean crop that he says is the best he has ever seen.
Not to be outdone, his soybeans just keep getting better and better. “It’s like nothing I have ever seen,” says Kelly. “I mean I have guys coming
down here who are telling me that they have never seen beans that look this good before.”
Kelly points to the stem size, branching, and the pod distribution on his DynaGro (2.3/2.6) beans as proof. “In the past, we were happy with an
average of 6 pods per nodule on a healthy bean plant, but this year we see an average of 7 to 8 pods per nodule,” he says.
Significant difference in growth and health between his drip irrigated beans (left) and his
dryland beans (right).
Like his corn, Kelly says that the uniformity of growth in his bean fields is something that he never saw before he installed drip.
“I don’t want to make any predictions yet, but I will say that I am confident that we are going to finish the year with a substantial return
from nearly every inch of this field,” says Kelly.
That’s something you just don’t hear very often from a farmer these days.
“I was a little worried at the beginning of September when the kernel count on my corn crop was less than I wanted at that point,” says Kelly Garrett. “We had a field day here in early September, and I was getting concerned that the crop was lagging behind for some reason.”
But that changed dramatically in the past four weeks as consistently cooler weather resulted in perfect conditions for grain fill. “In the last four
weeks,the crop has taken off, and with another 2-3 weeks to go before harvest I am pretty optimistic about the yield potential,” he says.
Weather during the grain-fill period is always one of the crucial determinants in achieving higher yields, but Kelly says that if the plant is tired
late in the season, the weather can be a moot point.
“Getting the plants to this point in the season with enough energy to maximize grain fill is the goal. You want the crop to be at its healthiest point
when it reaches grain fill,” says Kelly. “When the roots, leaf tissue and stalks are all working together to support the developing ear, the plant
transforms into nature’s perfect yield generating machine. Drip irrigation is the fuel that powers that machine and drives higher yields,” he adds.
Kelly says that the drip irrigation system allowed him to mitigate any stress to the crop during pollination and grain fill stages that would typically
affect the health and yield potential of his crop. “Drip is like an IV for the crop. It gives each plant a uniform and consistent distribution of
nutrients throughout the entire lifecycle, reducing competition among plants and allowing the crop to expend all its energy on maximizing growth
right from day one,” says Kelly.
He says he also sees his crop reaching maturity much later than in the neighboring fields. “These plants still have a lot of energy and are still filling
out. We won’t be harvesting them until late October at this point. That’s a really good thing when you are talking yield,” he adds.