Tough Crop Fights Stress

February 11, 2012 07:22 AM
Tough Crop Fights Stress

Corn crop produces surprising yields in difficult year

Steve Anderson’s heart sank when his crop scout pegged his corn yield at 150 bu. per acre this past August. Prior to extreme heat and disease, it had looked like his best crop ever.

"In June and July, it got extremely hot," Anderson says. "At night, lows were in the upper 70s to low 80s, with daytime highs in the 90s and very high humidity. We had a lot of Goss’s wilt."
Luckily the Beaman, Iowa, farmer’s story has a happy ending. "When harvest was finished, we averaged 200 bu. per acre, just where we had hoped to be," he says.

Anderson believes sound management helped his crop fight off stress and lay a foundation for higher yields. His practices include vertical tillage, fertility management (including starter and micronutrients) and twin-row planting.

Vertical tillage eliminates dense layers, so roots and water can infiltrate soil. For primary tillage in the fall, Anderson runs a Krause Dominator over cornstalks. (Three-fourths of his land is in continuous corn.) In the spring, he runs a Great Plains Turbo-Till, applies half his nitrogen and a residual herbicide, then Turbo-Tills a second time.

Anderson sidedresses the rest of his nitrogen, adjusting the rate based on crop condition. A high-clearance applicator ensures he can get side-dressing accomplished even if he runs into weather delays.

Sidedressing pays off. "I think side-dressing paid off last year," Anderson says. "We had a lot of rain in the spring, which may have leached out some fall-applied nitrogen. My corn stayed green."
His corn got a jump start, which Anderson credits to pop-up fertilizer in the seed furrow. "I began applying starter after noticing that corn seemed to green up faster for farmers who still had starter attachments on their planters," he says. This past spring, he included zinc and Ascend growth promoter in his starter mix. At sidedressing, he added sulfur to his nitrogen.

In 2006, Anderson purchased a Great Plains twin-row planter equipped with a Yetter 2967 residue manager. He compared twin rows (7" apart on 30" centers) with 30" rows across every field. "Although the difference varied by variety, twin rows never lost," he says. "They showed a 1-bu.- to 8-bu.-per-acre advantage in every field." He has planted his commercial corn in twin rows ever since. (He plants seed corn in 20" rows.)

"Roots expand until they sense another root," Anderson observes. "Plants are 10" to 11" apart in twin rows, compared to about 5" in 30" rows, so root masses should be larger, providing a stronger base for yield."

Anderson’s experience meshes with that of Farm Journal Field Agronomist Ken Ferrie, who has studied narrow-row planting for 15 years in central Illinois. "We have seen a 7-bu.- to 10-bu.-per-acre yield increase for twin rows and for 20" rows compared with 30" rows," he says.

"Of course, in any row width, it’s all about ear count. You have to maintain the same sound management practices that you used in 30" rows," Ferrie says.

Planting the best genetics is another key factor in Anderson’s management. He compared various populations for both yield and profitability before settling on 39,500 plants per acre.

Conclusion: Do some testing to find the best practices for your farm. Then do everything right, and yields might surprise you—even in a tough year.

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