Crushing It with 15” Corn

Philip McLain

Phillip and Erik McLain, along with their father, Phil, and uncle, Mike, are crushing it in the farming industry. The two generations in the McLain operation are using a proven business model, and building on it with concepts that are new to the farming industry. They are developing their own unique recipe for successful farming.


It Started with Beef

The McLain’s grandfather worked with cattle and ran a fertilizer business for many years. Phil and Mike helped with the cattle for quite some time, but one day, they decided it was time for a change. They saw potential in row crops, saved up enough money, and started to farm in the ‘70s. They enjoyed it, and by the late ‘70s, had already added a silage operation to their farm.

They knew a dairy farmer in the area that decided that cropping was too much trouble, and ended up selling his equipment to Phil and Mike. With hard work and dedication, they learned the ins-and-outs of farming, and have developed a successful operation.


Diversifying Crops

The McLains continued to pursue farming crops, and have made significant improvements over the years, to get to where they are today.  They dabbled in cotton for a while, but the market wasn’t where it needed to be for them to continue growing cotton. With large inputs, the labor intensive nature, and small window of opportunity to plant cotton, they decided that it was just too much of a gamble to continue growing it. They began growing rape seed and canola, and have never looked back.


If You Build it, They Will Come 

The McLains searched for a processing plant that could process their seed into oil. The only problem was that there was no crushing plant in the area. Erik said, “There was a need, there was a market, so we decided to build our own crushing plant.”

It turned out that there was enough demand for rape seed and canola oil, for them to work with a few large integrators and local meal consumers. Phil said, “We provide service to a niche market that is unique to our area.”

They were fortunate enough to use an existing location on their land from an old beef cow operation to house their crushing equipment. They used existing structures such as barns, grain bins and silos, to assist in processing their own canola and soybean seed.

They purchased the crushing equipment to process seed and immediately began crushing their own seed, along with buying seed from other growers to crush and sell.


Growing the Business 

News travels fast, and the McLain’s processing plant business quickly grew. They went from running two presses, to running several more in a matter of years.

They receive and ship products from local, national, and international customers alike. In order to keep up with the large shipments during the busiest times of the year, they keep the plant running 24 hours a day, 6 days a week. They take Sundays off to recover after such a busy week.

Phil takes care of the plant, along with the plant supervisor, Rodney, who has been managing their crushing plant for five years.

While Phillip and Erik are familiar with the plant, their preferred area of the operation is row cropping, specifically corn and soybeans.


Early Adopters 

The McLain brothers have been farming on 15” rows for 11 years now. Phil and Mike wanted to switch their silage corn over to 15” rows, while still being able to plant 30” cotton and it got them thinking. Erik said, “When we figured out that we were going to have to do 30” grain and 15” grain, it started to get a little aggravating. We had a problem with the fact that some 15” corn we planted may need to become grain instead of silage in certain years. We needed total flexibility.”

In order to save themselves the money of buying another piece of equipment, they tried picking the 15” corn with their 30” head. Needless to say, they did not have much luck with it. They decided to just take the plunge and buy a 15” corn head.

The advantage to this was that they could finally harvest their 15” corn with a 15” head, but at the time, there were very few options available. They found one that worked for them, but the single gathering chain per row was not ideal, and most of all, they just missed the job their Geringhoff folding NorthStar head did.

Phillip said, “When we harvested with our first 15” head, it worked, but we were disappointed that we didn’t have our folding head anymore. We had a 1230 folding NorthStar, we loved that thing.” Erik added, “It was a dream, you never had to take the head off, you could go anywhere with that thing. Going up the road was easier, that thing was perfect.”


Narrow-Minded Thinking

 The McLains have never been thought of as narrow-minded thinkers, but now all they had on their minds was planting narrow row corn, specifically 15” rows. The benefits far outweighed the risks, and it seemed to be a nice fit for their farm.

They both did research and ended up finding similar results. Land is getting more scarce, so the concept that many farmers are exploring now is how to make the most out of the acres they already have. They decided that the best place to start analyzing, was where farming actually starts, the planting.

Phillip said, “Let’s focus on plant health, and let’s do a better job at what we’re already doing. The planters we’re using are smart planters, they’re more precise planters. We’re focusing on speed, singulation, ground ride, and just doing a better job at planting.”

They ended up upgrading to 1795e precision planters. These planters have electric drives to control row shut off, and the ability to compensate the population when you go around curves. They also produce real time seed maps using iPads to tell the story of planting performance and seed placement.

15" corn



The next logical step was to analyze how they were delivering nutrients to these plants. They began to focus on putting micros into the soil, and looking at their Nitrogen, Phosphorous, and Potassium placement.

Phillip and Erik came across great evidence supporting a 3x2x2 method from other industry innovators they know and respect. That’s three inches on each side of the corn furrow, and then two inches down. This method, combined with in furrow fertilizer, places key nutrients where the plant needs them. This encourages the root system to actually respond to the placement of the fertilizer, and grow rapidly towards it, providing a better root structure and plant health.


Test and Confirm

 There is a lot of information out there regarding farming and what works best. There are so many factors that go into the data, so the McLain’s have learned to take what the data offers, but try it on their farm to make sure it will work for them in their unique North Carolina conditions. Phillip said, “We’re taking pains and spending a little more money to make a better crop and make a little more profit per acre, and we want to use good equipment to do it.”


The Freedom to Harvest 15” Row Corn 

The McLains recognize how important quality equipment is to their operation. They are starting with quality planters, and know the importance of finishing with a quality harvester.

Phillip said, “You can take it all the way to harvest, but if you don’t harvest it right, and you’ve lost your corn on the ground, then what good is it?”

When they heard about the Geringhoff Freedom, they were instantly on board. They could get back to the brand they know and trust, all while upgrading to a head with dual gathering chains to bring the crops in smoothly. Erik said, “You could run pretty much as fast as you wanted to, with the Freedom, and you wouldn’t have the loss that we had with our old head. It was a clean running machine.”

In 2016, the McLains had what every farmer wants to avoid, down corn. With the narrow snouts on the Freedom, it actually powered right through it, and they were able to harvest their crop. The Integrated Crop Flow Sweeper made it even easier. Erik said, “It worked exceptional in down corn. You could just put the head on the ground and it would pick the corn right up. Especially with that ICF, that kept things flowing in the head, it made it nice, it made it not as stressful.”

 Geringhoff Freedom 15" Corn Head

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