DECATUR — Jeff Brown had a feeling when scouting one of his cornfields last fall near Blue Mound that something special was going to come out of it.

He didn't have any expectation for just how good it was until the corn was coming out of the ground and surprisingly high numbers started showing up on the yield monitoring screens. The numbers were showing yields of more than 300 bushels per acre, well above the 200 bushels per acre most farmers would be quite satisfied with, especially just a few years removed from one of the worst droughts in history.

“It was a prayer answered,” said Brown, who works for Monsanto as a territory sales manager for the Asgrow and Dekalb brands along with being a certified crop adviser, which helps him make well-educated decisions on hybrid selections. In the winning field, he used Dekalb brand DKC62-08RIB, which is one of the company's top-yielding blends

The yield ended up hitting 350 bushels per acre, which Brown would later find out earned him first place for Illinois in the nonirrigated category of the 2014 National Corn Growers Association corn yield contest. He placed third in the nation, leading to what Brown considers his top professional highlight.

“It sent chills down my spine,” said Brown, who traveled to Arizona in February to accept a trophy during the awards ceremony for the contest. “It's a true blessing. I was glad and fortunate to do the extra work.”

As Brown and other farmers in Central Illinois wrap up most corn planting for this upcoming season and head into soybeans, he isn't sure if the achievement can be repeated. Everything fell into place as needed last year, and many elements such as weather cannot be controlled, Brown said.

Brown wasn't the only farmer with high yields, as totals in most area counties were above 200 bushels per acre for corn and 60 bushels per acre for soybeans, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates. Farmers in Macon and Piatt counties were the top producers for corn and soybeans yields per acre in the state.

The national record yield was 503 bushels per acre, which farmer Randy Dowdy produced in Georgia. Six other growers out of 8,129 entries from 46 states received in 2014 produced more than 400 bushels per acre in the Corn Growers contest, which has been held for more than 50 years.

“While this contest provides individual growers a chance for good-natured competition with their peers, it also advances farming as a whole,” said Don Glenn, chairman of the NCGA's Production and Stewardship Action Team. “The techniques and practices contest winners develop provide the basis for widely used advances that help farmers across the country excel in a variety of situations, including drought.”

The contest highlights innovation from growers and technology providers, Glenn said.

Brown is hoping to learn from his experience last year both by planting test plots and after talking with Dowdy and the other top growers about their approaches to farming.

“We're always trying to get things better,” Brown said. “Sometimes it's knowing what not to do.”

Brown, along with his cousin, Phil Brown of Boody, were making progress last week on fields they manage near Decatur. With mostly favorable weather conditions, they weren't in a hurry to plant the crops, content with making steady progress using the Precision Planting system. The method allows farmers to evenly space seeds in straight rows using GPS placement, as Brown showed when he dug and uncovered some of what had been planted in the field.

The potential growth of the crop starts as soon as the seed is in the ground, Brown said.

“We're working on details,” Brown said. “We know we have 503 bushels in those seeds. There's a lot of fine-tuning to get to that point.”

He said management decisions made from now until harvest will determine how closely the crops approach that target. Brown doesn't plan to go out of his way to set any records, although he realizes somebody will eventually get more from their crops.

“The technology is improving and genetics are changing,” Brown said. “We'll see where we are five years from now.”

Brown collects as much data from the fields as he can using the FieldView software program pulled up on an iPad, which he said contributes to decisions that he makes, such as applying fungicide, as the season progresses.

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