Corn yields throughout the Corn Belt were spectacular in 2009. Was it environment or genetics?
You need the right environment to fully express genes. How could a late planting season and a cool, wet summer contribute to tremendous yields?
Genetics is made up of base genetics, comprising more than 99% of total genetics, plus traits. Environment is everything that isn’t genetics. It includes soil type, organic matter, fertilizers, diseases, planting date, population and row width.
We have no control over weather —one of the most important factors. Corn likes cool, wet summers. Cool temperatures also reduce leaf disease. Plants live longer and keep adding dry matter, improving yields. However, wet, cool conditions late can cause diplodia and gibberella ear rot. Use disease-tolerant, faster-drying hybrids with open husks that tip ears over at physiological maturity to help reduce ear diseases.
Two years ago I met an Iowa farmer who consistently gets high yields, even in tough years. His average yields for the past three years were 185, 232 and 243 bushels per acre with conventional hybrids on about 500 acres. Many of the 30 tips that follow relate to his operation. Some relate to what I’ve learned in more than 40 years as a plant breeder, and as a consultant for Farm Progress Companies on the Corn Illustrated project.
1. Overall condition. Your equipment doesn’t have to be new, just ready to go.
2. Planter checkup. Check over your planter annually with a dealer-provided checklist, or have your dealer do it.
3. Upgrades. If you have an older planter, upgrade planting units if possible.
4. Fleet checkup. Don’t lose planting time because a dealer must repair the tractor, and no other tractors will pull the planter.
5. Consider field guidance. Auto-steering can make planting more relaxing.
6. Utilize fall tillage. That can help stalks break down in conventional systems. Don’t overdo tillage.
7. Apply P and K. Fertilize in the fall where applicable. Apply before tillage.
8. Use manure where feasible. Manure contains micro-nutrients along with
9. Know manure analysis. The Iowa farmer applies 10 to 12 tons of cattle manure per acre after soybeans in a corn-soybean rotation. That supplies 60 to 70 pounds of N per acre.
10. Seek guidance. Work with a local agronomist who understands your soils.
11. Use N-Serve. This farmer applies 90 to 100 pounds of anhydrous ammonia in the fall when possible, with N-Serve.
12. Take N credit. If you apply, say, 15 gallons of 28% N, about 45 pounds of N per acre, with herbicide, take credit toward total N. Remember soybeans add 30 to 40 pounds of N.
13. Starter fertilizer. The Iowa farmer uses 3 gallons of 3-18-18 as starter. He’s seen a 10-bushel-per-acre advantage for starter.
14. Plant early. Be ready to go when the soil is ready. This farmer starts in April if soils are right.
15. Run your own test plot. Replicate the hybrids two or three times. Use the company’s newest and best, and compare to the best hybrids of the previous year. If newer hybrids are 5% to 10% better, it’s time to move on.
16. Consider conventional seed. This farmer planted most of his acres to conventional seed. He figures you need 10 to 15 bushels per acre more at $3.50- to $4-per-bushel corn to pay for traits. He hasn’t seen that increase.
17. Understand traits. Remember that traits protect yield, they don’t increase yield.
18. Conventional herbicides.They’re required if you raise non-GMO corn — it can be a good thing!
19. Identify worst weeds. For this farmer, it’s wooly cupgrass. He’ll try Balance Flex this year on two-leaf corn.
20. Double-check rates. For example, Balance Flex contains a safener. It can affect rates.
21. Control perennials. Applying glyphosate in Roundup-Ready soybeans every other year helps.
22. Watch timeliness. Be timely on herbicide applications. Even small weeds compete.
23. Conventional approach. Use the best granular insecticide available. Soil-applied insecticides also help control secondary pests.
24. Secondary insect control. With triple- or quad-stacks, Cruiser or Poncho 250 seed treatments are included. Highest rates of these products are suggested for rootworm larval control on conventional corn. Control in heavy rootworm areas may still not match other methods.
25. Monitor insecticide applied. A Smartbox system simplifies monitoring. From 5% to 20% of acres will need to be in refuge anyway. Take the same care of those acres as if you planted traited corn.
26. Calibrate carefully. Have your Smartbox system calibrated yearly.
27. Scout regularly. Most Extension Services offer a weekly pest and crop newsletter during the season over the Internet.
28. Get ready! Make sure all harvest equipment is ready to go before harvest.
29. Read the manuals. Set aside time to read your combine manual so you can set your machine to match conditions.
30. Speed kills! Don’t drive the combine so fast that you leave corn behind.
Nanda writes from Indianapolis. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 317-501-9017.