Want High Corn Yields? Get These Two Factors Right

August 11, 2016 05:00 AM

High-yielding corn is built on a foundation of two fundamental factors: picket-fence stands and photocopy plants, says Missy Bauer, Farm Journal Associate Field Agronomist. Beautiful stands and identical plants reflect a farmer’s attention to detail at planting.

“Uniformity is the key to what we’re actually after,” Bauer told farmers Wednesday morning during the first day of the 2016 Farm Journal Corn College in Albert Lea, Minn.

When corn plants on your farm emerge at about the same time, there’s a much greater likelihood they’ll reach full maturity and produce a harvestable ear. Miss the mark and you could end up with thin weed-like corn plants that soak up water and nutrients with little or no grain to show for it.

Factor #1: Picket-Fence Stands. To achieve a stand of corn where every plant has roughly the same maturity, it’s important to start with the fundamentals of seed placement. The first issue Bauer looks at is seed placement. Older seed meters, for example, sometimes drop two seeds into a single trench.

“If you haven’t updated meters, it’s the first place to spend money,” Bauer says.

Newer meters have lessened the impact of doubles, but a new issue has taken its place—skips. A skip occurs when a seed bounces off a seed tube and lands closer to an adjoining plant than needed. One way to eliminate skips is to slow down the speed of your planter. Bauer’s team in Coldwater, Mich., typically plants at 3.5 to 4 mph for optimal uniformity.

During the early growing season, you can scout fields by measuring off a section of corn plants and writing down how many inches are between each plant. Plug those data points into an Excel spreadsheet and run a standard deviation calculation. For optimal yield, the resulting figure should reflect that plants are spaced within two standard deviations of one another.

Factor #2: Photocopy Plants. Not only should corn plants break through the soil at about the same time, they should also develop at the same rate to maximize yields. “If you see a plant that’s late, it’s behind and will stay behind,” Bauer cautions.

For example, if one corn plant emerges April 30 and another next to it emerges May 3, the late-emerging plant and its ear will be smaller throughout the growing season. As you walk your fields in the early part of the growing season, look for plants that are one collar or more behind their neighbors. These plants most likely won’t catch up, so it’s important to investigate what happened and make changes to avoid those issues next season.

Late emergence causes headaches as you near the end of the season, too. For example, late plants might silk and produce pollen that adds insect pressure when the rest of the crop is moving into the next stage of development. It also takes longer to dry down. Smaller ears make a difference in total bushels: a corn ear 18 kernels around produces 20 bu. per acre more grain, on average, than a corn ear 16 kernels around, Bauer says.

As you identify ways you can guarantee photocopy plants, dig a cross-section of your emerging corn to evaluate seed placement. Check for problems related to:

  • Planting depth
  • Moisture
  • Temperature
  • Down pressure
  • Gauge wheels
  • Closing wheels

Shallow seed placement, dry soil and poor firming are just some of the many issues that can limit a seed’s yield potential, Bauer says. The bottom line: Set up your planter properly before the season begins and troubleshoot early and often to make adjustments that can add ears—and dollars—to your bottom line.

For more from the 2016 Farm Journal Corn College, visit farmjournalcollege.com

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