Attention to detail makes the difference, champion grower says

Randy Dowdy has the passion of a southern preacher when it comes to raising corn and soybeans. The Georgia farmer backs it up as he is a national champion grower.

On Feb. 7, Dowdy spoke to a captive audience as he headlined Grower Focus, an event sponsored by Crop Quest, at the United Wireless Arena in Dodge City, Kansas.

Dowdy is a first-generation farmer who started his farm in 2006 with a John Deere 3020 and a two-row Deere planter. His first crop was peanuts, followed by cotton, and by 2008 he had switched to corn. Dowdy is the first grower to hit 500 bushels per acre on a corn crop and he held the record soybean yield of 191 bushels per acre in 2019.

Dowdy reminds growers that ignorance is not bliss and that challenging the status quo is important to making sure their bottom line improves.

“Who in here has not changed the way he has done things the last five years?” Dowdy said.

While many producers say they have had to make adjustments because of the economic climate, they also are reluctant to share that information with others. In one of his remarks the Brooks County, Georgia, producer asked, “How many of you have shared information with others?”

In his case, he remembered reaching out to David Hula, a third-generation farmer from Virginia who is a production record holder. Hula was willing to help Dowdy and that left an indelible mark on him.

Grower interest

When Dowdy attends events he enjoys observing the body language of those in attendance.

“How is this boy from Georgia going to teach me anything about growing corn?” Dowdy said, then smiled.

Then Dowdy went to work and asks many questions during his presentation. He uses the same approach to improving his own operation. Medical doctors, he said, are examples of professionals who believe continuing education is important to their occupation so they can better treat their patients. Farmers, he said, should use the same philosophy. Learning is a constant process. He noted a saying often attributed to Albert Einstein, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.”

Dowdy believes that asking questions, receiving feedback and sharing with other growers are necessary to avoid that trap. That is why he established and a Next Level program that helps growers in their communication process.

His early years in ag

With no background in farming, he had no preconceived notions, which made him inquisitive. He also acknowledged he had no capital or equipment, land and no borrowing capacity. Yet he remembers that knowledge combined with tenacity was crucial. It also taught him timeless principles.

All acres, he said, are important, and that requires a relentless approach to details.

“You have to have data to make decisions,” Dowdy said. A grower’s return on his investment requires that mindset. “Be a student of the crop and learn, learn, learn.”

From a practical standpoint, an example is to make sure the right nutrients are entering into the root zone at the right time. The race to be successful is defined by doing it correctly.

“The difference between a good farmer and a great farmer is timing and attention to detail,” Dowdy said. “Don’t hope it’s right. Know it’s right.”

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Yield loss from not paying attention, he says, is forever lost.

Understanding benchmarks

Dowdy went through a list of 15 variables he uses that can be universally applied. When it comes to understanding a crop’s costs, he says it is best to stick to figures that apply directly to it. Those include costs tied to land (mortgage or rent), planting, harvesting, drying, seed, chemicals, fertilizer, aerial or ground application, tissue/soils samples, utilities and fuel, labor and scouting fees, revenue protection policy, liability and property insurance and interest for up to four months.

Before becoming a farmer, Dowdy spent time in law enforcement and that experience taught him to “trust but verify.” The same applies to crop production, he said, regarding whether a plant has everything it needs to grow because yield and bushels are keys to profitability.

“I trust what I’m doing is working” he said, then paused. “Not I’m hoping what I am doing is working.”

Before the event Dowdy shared some other thoughts;

Get out of the cloak of tradition;

It is OK to make mistakes and use those experiences as a planning tool;

Understand where you made your yield and where the yield was lost; and

Even if you have a small farm everyone has 10 acres to experiment with.

Dave Bergmeier can be reached at 620-227-1822 or [email protected].