Tips for producing 300-bushel corn

Question:
What’s the first step to 300-bushel yields?

Bruce Fitzsimmons: Having a yield goal that is double what you are currently achieving will require some different thinking. Be objective and consider your yield-limiting areas. If a two-week loss in planting date consistently occurs because of poor drainage, start there. The same could be said for machinery: Would a planter rebuild with new steel result in better seed placement? Could changes in cultural practices, such as sidedressing nitrogen vs. preplant application, lead to better N utilization?

Evaluate everything involved in producing the crop, and keep in mind the smallest changes could result in big gains. Talk to your local certified crop advisers and have them give you a candid assessment of your particular situation.

Question:
Is my fertility program adequate?

Fitzsimmons: Certainly the fertility demands of a 300-bushel corn crop will be greater. Consider more intensive ways to determine what your fields can or can’t supply. A grid-sampling program may reveal unknown inadequacies. Aerial and satellite imagery could reveal issues at any time in the growing season that may not be visible at ground level. Use that information to further investigate areas of stress, or where lower yields are occurring.

The same can be said for using a tissue testing program throughout the growing season. This can be an effective tool to assess what nutrients, both macro- and micro-, could potentially be limiting yield.

Question:
What hybrids work best?

Fitzsimmons: Do your homework on this one. Seek out and study all the yield data you can from your area. Not all top-yielding genetics will be top yielders in all areas of the Corn Belt, so it will pay to select ones that perform well in your geography. If possible, look back at multiple years of data and at as many site locations as possible to get a sense of performance in varying growing seasons.

Develop a relationship with a seed sales representative you trust. With the speed at which companies introduce new hybrids and replace old ones, it is a challenge to keep up with genetics. Relying on your seed rep to provide sound recommendations with solid results will be valuable.

Question:
Should I look at fungicides?

Fitzsimmons: Fungicides have recently proven to be a very effective way to protect a corn crop’s yield potential. Again, consider your situation and the diseases you may have in your fields to select the correct crop protection material and application method. Remember, not every hybrid will have the same yield response. Many seed corn companies now rate their hybrids’ responses to fungicides. Keep this in mind as you scout throughout the growing season.

Another relatively new practice is the use of plant growth regulators to enhance yield. Applied or delivered in different methods, these hormones or signal molecules are used to trigger some kind of plant response. These plant responses can result in better seed germination, fruit set and ripening, root and stem development, and senescence. PGRs could be the next big tool to unlock more yield potential and move us toward that 300-bushel level.

Question:
What’s the right population?

Fitzsimmons: Without question, corn plant populations have steadily increased since corn was first hybridized in the early 1930s. One doesn’t have to look too far to find trials and studies that show increasing the number of consistent, harvestable ears results in better yield. It is a “strength in numbers” concept that has many corn growers pushing seed drop into the 40,000 to 50,000 range.

There is more to it than a simple change in sprockets. How far you can push population will depend on a myriad of things. Just a few considerations are genetic background, fixed vs. flex ear type, drought tolerance, root systems, stalk quality, row width and many more. All are affected — or have an effect when we push plant density.

Rely on your seed rep to develop a sound recommendation.

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This article published in the July, 2011 edition of OHIO FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2011.