It's no small feat to efficiently grow 429-bu. irrigated corn, especially when your watershed heads to the Chesapeake Bay. But Charles City, VA, corn-yield champ David Hula used stewardship and intensive management of his no-till ground to win the 2011 National Corn Growers Association yield contest.

"We have to be good stewards of our land and inputs, because we farm in the Chesapeake Bay area," says Hula, who grows corn, soybeans, wheat, barley and oats with his two brothers, Jeff and Johnny, and his retired father Stanley. The family has practiced continuous no-till, or what they call "never-till" since the mid-1980s to protect against soil and nutrient loss. They also use cover crops and crop rotation to improve soil health and minimize insect and disease pressure.

Along with soil and crop considerations, the family keeps a close eye on their production costs. "In our irrigated program for ordinary soils, the cost of production (not including rent) ran $2.31/bu. and the yields averaged 296 bu./acre last year," Hula says, who counts fixed and variable costs and all equipment, labor and input costs in his calculations. "On our high-yielding ground (which includes the contest field), the cost of production/bu. ran $2.52/bu., and the yields averaged 411 bu./acre."

Hula relies on a Valley center pivot, with an irrigation scheduling system, to help decide when and how much to irrigate. He also uses irrigation to cool down the corn when the weather turns too hot. However, he uses machinery, not irrigation, to apply nutrients and crop protection products.

With nitrogen (N) ranking near the top input cost required to raise corn while also being a volatile element that can be lost to the environment, Hula is careful in how much he applies and how he applies it. "We figure it takes 1 lb. of N/acre to produce 1 bu. of corn," says Hula. "On our contest field, we applied 386 lbs. of N/acre and achieved a 429 bu./acre yield, so we were very N efficient."