David Hula uses some of the latest technologies to achieve impressive corn yields at Renwood Farms in Charles City, Va.

David Hula uses some of the latest technologies to achieve impressive corn yields at Renwood Farms in Charles City, Va.

As researchers across the state continue to make agricultural discoveries, Virginia farmers are taking advantage of the new technologies available and improving their yields one growing season at a time.

Triticeae Coordinated Agricultural Project

Designed to develop new varieties of wheat and barley, the Triticeae Coordinated Agricultural Project (T-CAP) is a national venture focused on assessing the impacts of climate change on crop yields and the genes that impact those yields. Funded by a $25 million grant from the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture, the project aims to identify favorable gene variants for disease resistance, drought tolerance and nitrogenuse efficiency.

Locally, T-CAP research is taking place at Virginia Tech, where Professor Carl Griffey and two graduate students are collecting data and examining factors related to wheat and barley yields. Griffey says the students are collecting information on yields and yield components, and using genomics technology to determine if there is any association between the two. The students are also working to identify varieties of wheat and barley that have improved nitrogen-use efficiency, which Griffey says “could either produce similar yields with less nitrogen or produce more yields with the given nitrogen, and have less nitrogen sent into run-off or evaporated into the air.”

Ultimately, once the new varieties have been developed, researchers will be able to incorporate the yield-improving genes into other varieties through molecular marker-assisted selection. “Yield is very complex because anything can affect it,” Griffey says. “We’re trying to identify genes that have major effects on yield that we can improve over time.”

David Hula uses an iPad and other high-tech devices inside a tractor combine at his farm in Charles City, Va.

David Hula uses an iPad and other high-tech devices inside a tractor combine at his farm in Charles City, Va.

Advanced Technology On The Farm

Located in Charles City, Renwood Farms is known for its impressive corn yields, with the entire crop grown on no-till soil. In 2013, David Hula, who owns the farm with his brothers, harvested 454 bushels of corn per acre, breaking the world corn yield record. While Hula notes that he works to take exceptional care of the soil, he also says he uses some of the latest technologies to achieve such impressive yields.

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For example, during the past decade, Hula has practiced grid soil sampling. Recently, the farm has partnered with software company MapShots to further determine what each field requires in order to yield more crops.

“We send our soil samples to a lab, and we use MapShots to position the results on a map,” Hula says. “Then, we can overlay years of harvest data and applications on their soil sample layers, and we can variably apply nutrients or make prescriptions across the field.”

Another way Hula is using advanced technology on his more than 4,000-acre farm, which also comprises soybeans, wheat, barley and oats, is by using a 20/20 device from Precision Planting when planting corn. According to Hula, the device is mounted in the cab of his tractor and tells him the down pressure on each row in the field, which is valuable information. Too much down pressure creates problems for the seed due to compaction, while too little down pressure means the seed won’t be planted deep enough.

“I’m able to see that (down pressure information) in real time,” Hula says. “Also, if I have someone else planting and I want to see what they’re doing, I can pull it up on my computer or my iPad and check to see how the planter is performing.” At the end of each harvest, Hula sits down with his team and discusses the season’s successes and failures, a process that advanced technology has also enhanced due to improved data collection capabilities.

“Each year, we’re steadily building on our knowledge base,” Hula says.

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David Hula

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