A high-yield field
Four miles south of Delavan lies one of Minnesota’s greatest farms.
No, not necessarily in size. Or variety of crops.
But Gary Prescher’s fourth-generation homestead, surrounded by row after row of corn and soybean growth or at least what was row after row of growth during harvest season is, in fact, one of the state’s top manufacturers.
That is according to the National Corn Growers Association’s National Corn Yield Contest, which named Prescher the first-place winner of the 2016 AA Non-Irrigated award category for a contest yield of more than 288 bushels per acre.
In other words, Prescher’s Delavan farmland, in line with contest criteria, churned out a better yield than any other comparable farm across the state over the course of 2016.
Syngenta, the agrochemical business for which Prescher works as an agronomist, says the award-winner’s 2016 yield surpassed the United States Department of Agriculture’s Minnesota corn yield projection by more than 100 bushels and that projection was the state’s second-highest ever.
So, yes, four miles south of Delavan, at least in some sense, lies one of Minnesota’s greatest farms.
“I couldn’t do it without all the people who support me,” says Prescher, who lives on the recognized farm. “Farming is pretty intense, it’s labor-intensive, so I have to thank all those who have helped me along the way.”
As thankful as he is for drawing the statewide accolade, though, Prescher also acknowledges that grooming an award-winning yield is merely a byproduct of an everyday dedication to agriculture.
As an agronomist for Syngenta, Prescher works with farmers across Southeastern and South Central Minnesota, providing agricultural consultation.
“And my cousin has a seed operation,” Prescher says, “plus we have the family farm here, which I’m mostly running.”
So tending to his own corn and soybeans, preparing products for local ethanol plants and fostering seed beans for Syngenta, was already a daily responsibility that had Prescher’s hands in the dirt.
It was a years-long string of experimental farming practices, then, that led to his eventual entry into the National Corn Yield Contest.
“Basically, I started the process in 2009,” he says. “That’s when I made the decision to do some improvements on drainage.”
Looking to iron out inconsistencies with his farm’s drainage, especially in the Southern Minnesota weather that often threatens to leave excess water amidst crops, Prescher says some changes were made. And those changes, coupled with a desire to improve a lack of soil fertility, gave him a starting point for significant farming improvements.
“We wanted to bring our yields up, and those are the foundations,” he says. “Then you add different cropping amendments to set up a bigger, better factory.”
Cue the experiments.
Paying attention to and then applying other farmers’ practices, then partnering with local retailers and the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, Prescher started building his “bigger, better factory” with an emphasis on nitrogen and water maintenance as well as grid sampling and other fertility maintenance.
An improved soybean yield caught his eye during an otherwise hit-or-miss 2012 growing season. And by 2014, Prescher says he was seeing “really outstanding yields” across the farm.
Implementing different practices, some from the University of Minnesota Nitrogen Management Best Management Practices, eventually had Prescher eyeballing a shot at statewide recognition.
After all, if his farm was producing at vastly improved rates, why not let it be known that his practices were responsible for bigger and better yields?
“We’re capped on acres,” he says, “so my focus was on increasing the yield and efficiency rather than increasing efficiency through scale and size.”
The National Corn Growers Association took notice.
Prescher decided in the spring of 2016 to enter the National Corn Yield Contest for the first time, and the years of experimental agriculture paid off.
In January, he was named the first-place recipient of the AA Non-Irrigated award for highest corn yield, set to be recognized in a National Corn Yield Competition guide as well as an honors ceremony in San Antonio.
“I’ve had some growers contact me, wanting to compare notes,” Prescher says of life after the award-winning yield results. “But it’s not a secret. I’ll share things, and I’ll talk about what helps improve the yield.”
Good thing for the farmers who work with Prescher.
Before long, Southern Minnesota might have a few other farms honored for their greatness, too.