Pictured from left, Ben Benson & Joshua Becker receive their Big Cob Bin Buster team awards for highest yield, greatest input-use efficiency, and most profitable farm for the subsurface drip irrigation (SDI) category in the 2019 UNL TAPS farming competition from Eco-Drip representative Taylor Reynolds and UNL Educator Chuck Burr.
A team made up of Big Cob Hybrids growers and professionals from throughout the Upper Big Blue Natural Resources District, took home first place honors in all awards categories for subsurface drip irrigated (SDI) corn in the 2019 UNL-TAPS (University of Nebraska Lincoln Testing Ag Performance Solutions) farming competition. The Big Cob Bin Busters team, comprised of Joshua Becker, Jonathan Rempel, Jason Ladman, and Ben Benson, swept the competition for highest yield (278-bushels per acre), greatest input-use efficiency, and most profitable SDI corn farm.
The UNL-TAPS program is an interactive farm management competition that brings together scientists, producers, industry professionals, students and more to promote efficiency and profitability. The competition, developed by the University of Nebraska research and extension specialists and educators, just completed its third year, and is preparing to begin its fourth in 2020. Rather than a typical learning environment, participants interact in the real-life farm management competitions administered in North Platte at the West Central Research, Extension and Education Center.
In 2019, the competition included pivot irrigated corn and sorghum, and expanded to include a subsurface drip irrigated (SDI) corn competition. The sprinkler corn contest had 24 teams participate, the sprinkler sorghum had 10 teams, and the SDI competition included 16 teams – with participants from Nebraska, Kansas, Colorado and Missouri. The third year of the program included both new and returning producer teams, as well as non-producer teams that consisted of government entities, NRD employees, and college students among others.
Becker, a grower and Big Cob seed representative from Beaver City, was told about the competition by a friend who had competed in the past and approached Rempel, Ladman and Benson to form the team. During the competition, each team was randomly assigned a set of three experiment sized plots, totaling about one half of an acre. The yields and costs from each “farm” are amplified to represent 3,000 harvested acres for the corn
competitions and 1,000 harvested acres for the sorghum competition, which is more representative of a modern farm size. Participants have control over six parameters: hybrid selection, seeding rate, irrigation, nitrogen, crop insurance, and grain marketing.
“Josh [Becker] and I called on the extensive corn product knowledge of one of the most experienced corn breeders in the industry–my father, Dr. David Benson–to select 15-H64,” explains Ben Benson, team member and president of Big Cob Hybrids. “North Platte is a unique environment – you’ve got a higher elevation and different soil types to consider – so we looked at the performance of 15-H64 over a multi-year period. It’s a little fuller-seasoned for that geography, but it dries very well. I think we captured more bushels by having a fuller-season hybrid.”
Further consulting with Rempel, a grower from Henderson, Nebraska, on plant nutrition and soil fertility, the Big Cob Bin Buster team pooled their extensive knowledge and experience to develop a solid agronomic, risk management and marketing plan.
Ladman, director of sales at Big Cob Hybrids, notes the team’s marketing strategy involved establishing a price point they thought was possible given the planting conditions across the US and then selling large quantities. “The number one mistake most farmers make is not selling large enough quantities when prices rise above their break evens.” Ladman said. “We felt that if we were going to be in the running for most profitable, we were going to have to sell larger quantities. We were fortunate to hit our targets in June and that is when we unloaded a majority of our estimated production.”
The 2019 competition concluded in December with the awards banquet where the results were presented for the top “farms” in three categories including greatest grain yield, highest input use efficiency, and the highest award of most profitable farm.
“When they announced that the Big Cob Bin Buster team swept all three SDI categories at the banquet, I was grinning ear-to-ear,” said Benson. “This award proves that, while we are a small independent seed company, through our partnerships and licensing we have access to world-class genetics that preform regionally better than our competitors. Combine placing the right hybrids on the right acres with the opportunity to work with a team of growers like Josh and Jonathan and realize success at harvest is what Big Cob is all about.”
Becker said he was “humbled” by the awards they won especially not knowing exactly what to expect as a first-year competitor. “Just learning and seeing how each and every decision you make farming can affect your profitability was really neat,” he said. “I am looking forward to competing in 2020 and am also interested to see if I can improve yields on my own farm based on what we learned from our TAPS plot.”