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Keep Corn Happy

February 12, 2014
By: Rhonda Brooks, Farm Journal Seeds & Production Editor
happy corn
Happy corn has just the right amount of nitrogen available during all growth stages so crop growth never slows down.   

The Systems Approach can help you make it happen

If you want to harvest a bumper corn crop this fall, one of the best things you can do is to keep corn happy during the growing season, advises Ken Ferrie, Farm Journal Field Agronomist. He says one of the best ways to accomplish that is to feed the crop adequate nitrogen along the way as part of an overall Systems Approach to management.

"You want to keep enough nitrogen available during all corn growth stages so crop growth never slows down," Ferrie explains.

CornNavigatorLogoHe says nitrogen works in corn like gasoline in a vehicle, fueling crop growth from emergence through maturity. A lack of nitrogen at any point along the way can cause the crop to sputter or stall.

"Corn that’s nitrogen deficient at the beginning of the growing season gives up yield potential," Ferrie says. "Nitrogen-deficient corn in the late reproductive stages costs actual yield."

Iowa State University Extension research indicates the maximum nitrogen uptake in corn occurs in periods of maximum growth, roughly in the V9 to V18 growth stages.

Management puzzle. Figuring out how much nitrogen your corn crop needs, what type it needs and when it needs the nutrient differs from farm to farm and year to year. A set of agronomic practices that Ferrie calls the Systems Approach is designed to help you minimize risks and capitalize on the opportunity for high corn yields in any given season.

While the Systems Approach comprises several factors, it is based on one guiding principle: Every management practice you use is intrinsically linked and ultimately impacts yield.

The first consideration when address­ing nitrogen use is the farm environment. Ferrie says this includes weather conditions as well as the farmer’s tillage practices and crop rotation.

The environment sets the stage for nitrogen timing. The timing, in turn, sets the stage for placement—where you place the nitrogen to make sure it reaches the corn.

Placement then sets the stage for the nitrogen source.

"For instance, fall ammonia might be the easiest and most economical nitrogen source, but it may not fit certain scenarios that we want to address, such as helping us manage the carbon penalty," Ferrie notes.

He tells farmers to always think through how each piece of a crop’s management puzzle fits together, especially if they decide to make a change in any area.

"Say a corn grower decides to change his crop rotation or add a cover mix; he doesn’t realize that this one change creates a chain reaction that affects how he needs to manage nitrogen throughout the season," Ferrie says. "When you make one change, try to think about how many possible things that will affect."

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FEATURED IN: Farm Journal - Mid-February 2014

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