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Pile on the grain

Across the Southeast, the best average is 165, in Kentucky, and the worst is 100, in Florida, according to USDA’s crop production report. Somewhere in the middle are Tennessee at 148, Georgia with 140 and Alabama with 108.

Yet Georgia Extension corn agronomist Dewey Lee says 300 is possible, and 250 is likely.

He is talking, of course, about corn yield. And, yes, that’s 250 to 300 bushels per acre.

Key Points

• Corn growers can maximize yield and profit.

• Growers who focus on timeliness and uniformity can hit 300 bushels an acre.

• Early weed management and irrigation are essential to high yields.

“Over the past four years, average yields of growers have risen considerably,” Lee says. “The average yield of growers entering UGA’s high yield and production efficiency program was 254 bushels per acre.”

Marcus Huffman of Auburn, Ky., had the highest yield in Kentucky at 295.5605 bushels an acre using Dekalb DKC63-42. He earned third place nationally in the A No-Till/Strip-Till Category in the National Corn Growers Association high yield competition.

The focus, however, has to be on making more profit from the higher yield, Lee says.

“Effective, efficient dollar use. That’s what I’m looking for,” Lee says. “How can I make more money?”

As in nearly all things agricultural, the key, of course, is timing.

“Timely management is essential,” Lee says.

That starts with planting. Use a seed treatment. Don’t plant in wet soil. Check equipment, because a uniform stand is essential. Plant a high seed rate.

Lee encourages high plant populations. Seed at 30,000 to 32,000 or more under irrigation and 18,000 to 20,000 or more on dryland. He goes so far as to say 35,000 irrigated and 26,000 dryland are not unreasonable.

Use a seed treatment and plant during the optimum window recommended by Extension for the given area. “Plant too early and you may suffer freeze damage,” Lee says. Anything that slows early growth opens the plant to more insect and disease pressure.

“It doesn’t matter what kind of stress it is,” Lee says. “The question is, ‘Can you avoid it?’ ”

Which brings him to the topic of irrigation. One inch of timely irrigation returns 8 to 9 bushels in Georgia, Lee says. And start paying attention to water needs early.

“A 12-inch plant does not need 2 inches of water,” says Pioneer agronomist Kevin Phillips. “But just because it doesn’t need 2 inches doesn’t mean it’s not important. That ¾ inch of water is just as important.”

Check those nozzles, as well. “Something that simple can cost you 20, 30, 40 bushels an acre,” says Calhoun County, Ga., Extension coordinator Paul Wigley. “It costs just as much to put that water out uniformly.”

Early also applies to reducing weed competition. Start applying herbicide 21 to 28 days after emergence. Lee figures the multiplier for yield in clean fields is 5. Some weed scientists say 10.

“Every day you let those weeds live, your yield goes down,” Wigley says.

This article published in the March, 2010 edition of SOUTHERN FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2010.