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Get Your Corn Crop Off to a Good Start

April 14, 2014
emerged corn
  

What you do before and during planting can make or break your crop's yield potential.

By Peter Thomison, The Ohio State University Extension

Mistakes made during crop establishment are usually irreversible, and can put a "ceiling" on a crop's yield potential before the plants have even emerged. The following are some proven practices that will help get a corn crop off to a good start.

Perform Tillage Operations Only When Necessary and Under the Proper Soil Conditions

Avoid working wet soil and reduce secondary tillage passes. Perform secondary tillage operations only when necessary to prepare an adequate seedbed. Shallow compaction created by excessive secondary tillage can reduce crop yields. Deep tillage should only be used when a compacted zone has been identified and soil is relatively dry. Late summer and fall are the best times of year for deep tillage.

Complete Planting by Early May

The recommended time for planting corn in northern Ohio is April 15 to May 10 and in southern Ohio, April 10 to May 10. However if soil conditions are dry and soil temperatures are rising fast, start planting before the optimum date. During the two to three weeks of optimal corn planting time, there is, on average, only one out of three days when field work can occur. Avoid early planting on poorly drained soils or those prone to ponding. Yield reductions resulting from "mudding the seed in" are often much greater than those resulting from a slight planting delay. If the rainy conditions we are currently experiencing persist, remember that good yields are still possible with later planting dates. In 2011 and 2012, many Ohio growers observed that their later planted corn yielded better than early corn due to unusually favorable rainfall and temperature conditions in late July and August.

Adjust Seeding Depth According to Soil Conditions

Plant between 1-1/2 to 2 inches deep to provide for frost protection and adequate root development. Seeding depth should be monitored regularly during the planting operation and adjusted for varying weather and soil conditions. Irregular, especially shallow planting depths contribute to uneven plant emergence, which can reduce yields.

Adjust Seeding Rates on a Field-by-Field Basis

Adjust planting rates using the yield potential of a site as a major criterion for determining the appropriate plant populations. Lower seeding rates are usually preferable when droughty or marginal soils limit yield potential. On soils that average 120 bu/acre or less, final stands of 20,000 to 22,000 plants/acre are adequate for optimal yields. Plant population studies conducted by OSU from 2006 to the present suggest that on more highly productive soils, with greater yield potential, final stands of 30,000 plants/acre or higher were required to maximize yields. Seeding rates can be cut to lower seed costs but on most highly productive Ohio soils, this approach typically costs more than it saves.

Most research suggests that planting a hybrid at suboptimal seeding rates is more likely to cause yield loss than planting above recommended rates (unless lodging becomes more severe at higher population levels) and harvest delays occur. When early planting is likely to create stressful conditions for corn during emergence, e.g. no-till in corn residues in early to mid April, consider seeding rates 10 to15% higher than the desired harvest population. Follow seed company recommendations with regard to optimal seeding rates for different hybrids.

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