World dryland corn record holder Russell Hedrick says doing his own agronomy work and "a lot of field walking" has been some of his best return on investment for his Hickory, N.C., operation.
Hedrick set a new world record with his winning entry of 459.51 bushels per acre in the 2022 North Carolina Corn Growers Yield Contest.
Photo courtesy of Russell Hedrick
“A lot of people don’t really understand exactly how this season happened,” says Hedrick, who was awarded the overall yield winner and 1st place winner of the Central Region at the 33rd Annual NC Commodities Conference, hosted by the Corn Growers Association of North Carolina, on Thursday, Jan. 12, 2023, the day after his keynote presentation at the 2023 National No-Tillage Conference.
Dedication to his fields and the growing crops is essential to Hedrick’s success.
“I would say that we cover every acre of corn at least every fourth day,” he says. “As a farmer, the visual indicators of getting out in that field — seeing the crop conditions, weed pressure, insect pressure, disease pressure and really being able to see that with your own eyes — make all the difference. I don’t think all farmers truly understand that doing a lot of your own agronomy work is some of the best return on investment for us, versus having just standard scouting done by others. I know other farmers do this too, but we just think that ultimately, we can make better management decisions and get a better return on investment, so we do a lot of field walking.”
A first-generation farmer in Hickory, NC, Hedrick utilizes up-and-coming technologies and practices on his operation to optimize nutrient management.
“There’s not just one thing, but we definitely spoon-feed our crop along," Hedrick says. "Typically on 90% of our corn acres, we’ll make a minimum of 2 passes. On contest plots, it’s not uncommon to run 6-7 passes and spoon-feed that crop along when it needs it, really pushing for these maximum yields.”
Hedrick is known for his innovative and unconventional approach to no-till. He first started using row crops in 2012 with 30 acres. Gradually, he began challenging conventional farming practices in a quest to improve his soils and his farmland. Today, he's grown his operation to 800 acres and beyond as co-founder of Soil Regen, Heritage Ground and mobile grain milling operation Regen Mills. In 2017, he won the North Carolina Corn Yield contest, becoming the first person to win in the state using regenerative practices.
“There’s so many things that we’ve learned from so many different people and tried them out," Hedrick says. "It really took us 4-5 years to find that sweet spot to see a return on these practices that we’re using.”
Hedrick, who registered his winning dryland yield with AgVenture's AV9916AM, is a customer of Sweetwater Creek Seeds, an independent seed company selling AgVenture corn and soybean products, owned and operated by Clif Hardison, based in Williamston, N.C. Wesley Bowen, a friend of Hedrick’s, sells AgVenture products for Sweetwater Creek Seeds, and introduced him to Hardison and his business.
“Working with Clif has been fun for me as a farmer,” Hedrick says. “If we see agronomy packages that we like in certain varieties, they’ve already done plot work on it and are one step ahead of us. They can come back to us with information and we can fit another variety into our operation.”