Still hot for corn

Paul Anderson is practicing SOS corn storage this winter — store on stalk. “It worked last year,” the Harvey, N.D., farmer says. Field losses were low, test weight increased to acceptable levels, and the corn dried to 15% moisture by spring. “I hope it will work again this year — so far it has,” Anderson says.

At press time, the corn he had left in the field was about 18% moisture, and he was working on combining it.

Although three of the past six years (2004, 2008 and 2009) were poor years for corn, Anderson isn’t discouraged, and he doesn’t plan on cutting back corn acres. He notes these reasons for his confidence:

• New early-maturing varieties have more yield potential and perform better in cool soils than older hybrids. A Legend seed dealer, Anderson plants 79- to 87-day maturity hybrids. He plants the earliest-maturing hybrids first, then the latest-maturing hybrids and then the mid-maturing hybrids.

• Strip tillage helps corn plants grow faster in the spring, even in cool weather. Fertilizer is placed directly beneath the future rows when strips are built. Anderson plants on the strips, and soon after the seed germinates, the corn roots come in contact with the fertilizer.

• In-field storage works. Stalks and ear necks are stronger than in the past. There was very little field loss in the 2008 crop. So far the 2009 crop is holding up well. Quality remained high over the winter of 2008-09, too.

• Natural drying of corn is efficient. Anderson has about 32,000 bushels of storage, so some has to go directly to the plant or elevator, and the bins have to be turned a couple of times. The bins have full drying floors and are equipped with low-temperature dryers. Anderson also contracts with elevators to dry some of his corn. In the future, he’d like to install a high-temperature dryer on the farm, but he has electricity supply issues at this time.

The bottom line: “We’re getting better at managing cool seasons,” Anderson says. He also wonders how many more cool summers there will be in the decade ahead. “We’re due for a good corn growing year,” he says.

Other benefits

Corn offers Anderson some rotational benefits, too. Corn allows Anderson to spread out the use of his sprayer and combine. 

Anderson farms 3,200 acres and plants 12% of it to corn. He also grows pinto beans, soybeans, sunflowers, wheat and peas. Corn is the only warm-season grass in the rotation. It helps break disease and weed cycles in the warm-season broadleaves and cool-season grasses.

Anderson plants corn on pinto bean ground and usually follows corn with wheat. Corn ground is usually drier and ready to plant earlier than other fields, giving his wheat on corn ground a head start over wheat on other types of stubble.

Some fertilizer applied for corn carries over to wheat, too, which lowers wheat input costs.

Sunflowers can follow corn. If it’s too wet in late April or early May to plant wheat on corn stubble, Anderson can wait until late May or June and plant sunflowers on the corn ground. Corn usually allows for direct seeding.

Finally, there’s a good market and infrastructure for corn in central North Dakota. The Harvey and Fessenden Co-op elevators — where Anderson delivers his corn — are both on the Canadian Pacific main line. Each elevator has built new corn storage and shuttle train loaders.

Much of Anderson’s corn also goes to the Blue Flint ethanol plant at Falkirk, N.D., by truck. 

“Blue Flint should be competitive with other ethanol plants,” Anderson says. The Blue Flint plant is connected to a coal enterprise and has a ready source of energy and waste heat to utilize. It is also located on a main rail line, and it has good access to Canadian, Californian and Asian markets for distillers grains.

“I’m pretty bullish on corn,” says Anderson, who serves on the North Dakota Corn Growers Association board. “I’m going to keep it as part of my crop mix.”

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LOOKING GOOD: Paul Anderson liked the look of his strip-tilled corn early in the season. Precise placement of fertilizer promoted early-season growth.

This article published in the January, 2010 edition of DAKOTA FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2010.