Del Under and his Wife Tammi, plus son Lance and daughter Adair, make their large grain operation near Carlisle work. When the Indiana Farm Management tour visited recently, Del made it clear that their strategy was different than what many people follow, and even different than what Purdue University ag economists often preach. However, he wasn't phased to let people know about it, because he says it works for them.
"We're not the least cost producer when it comes to growing corn, not by any means," he says. "Experts often talk about striving for the least cost per acre in inputs. Our philosophy is different. We strive for the least cost per bushel. There is a big difference.
The Ungers have chosen to be primarily corn farmers. About 1,700 of their acres are irrigated. That gives them an edge in pampering those acres with extra applications of nutrients through the irrigation water later in the season than most traditional applications can be made. Unger credits the ability to irrigate to an excellent aquifer. Their home farm sits a few miles from the Wabash River.
"About 80% of our land is corn-after-corn, and we shoot for 30 bushels per acre," Unger says. "We don't always get it, but we do get high enough yields to justify the amount of inputs we invest, at least in our mind. What we want to do is produce as much corn per acre as possible. The more bushels you have, the least the cost of any input per bushel."
That's why the Unger's are aggressive at applying phosphorus and potassium, plus some secondary nutrients, as needed. Working with Betsy Bower, Ceres Ag Solutions, Terre Haute, their fields are sampled once very four years. When the field is sampled, they use those recommendations to build variable-rate fertilizer applications per each field.
In the off years, they use yield maps to prepare their fertilizer prescription maps. "A 240-bushel per acre corn crop takes off a lot of nutrients," Unger says. "Our goal is to apply replacement and have enough for maintenance. That's why we go by yield maps on how much corn was removed in the years when we don't have new soil test results from that field. Many times, what we expect from soil tests based upon what we've applied matches up very well."