Will Addition Of Sugar Sweeten Corn Performance?

UNL research finds no noticeable bump in yields in trials, but corn standability was improved.

Published on: Apr 22, 2013

Several University of Nebraska-Lincoln on-farm research cooperators decided in recent years to test whether applying sugar to their crops would be beneficial.

Using the application rates that Kip Cullers, record soybean yield producer from Missouri, uses, one Clay County Nebraska producer applied 3 pounds of sugar per 10 gallons of water at V7-V8 stage on corn in 2010 and 2011, says Jenny Rees, University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension educator.  He purchased a pallet of cane or beet sugar from the local grocery store.

While Cullers, who has recorded record soybean yields, tanked-mixed the sugar solution with a post-herbicide application like glyphosate, the Clay County producer opted not to. To simulate any effect from the water application or driving through the field, he drove through the untreated check spraying water only, Rees says.

Will Addition Of Sugar Sweeten Corn Performance?
Will Addition Of Sugar Sweeten Corn Performance?

Two years of research results showed no significant increase in yield. However, there was a noticeable difference in standability at harvest. The Clay County producer did not apply a foliar fungicide either year. When it came to harvest, this producer needed the reel in 2010 for the untreated check. Stalk rot ratings were taken using the pinch test two weeks prior to harvest. To him, the $1.25 per acre cost of sugar was worth it to improve standability, even if yield was not significantly improved.

Several York County producers also tested this, with one producer finding a non-statistical 2-bushel-per acre-yield difference with the check yielding better, while the other producers found a statistically significant 2-bushel-per-acre increase to the sugar treatment.

Another producer in Hamilton County is testing use of sugar. He is using 1 quart of corn sugar (high fructose corn syrup) per 10 gallons of water applied the at V7-V8 stages.

In 2012, a small plot study was conducted at UNL's South Central Ag Lab near Clay Center to determine any differences between sugar application, fungicide application, and untreated check in corn. All treatments were applied at R2. Because of the drought in 2012, there was minimal disease pressure, thus there were no significant differences between the three treatments regarding area under the disease progress curve. The untreated check did show the most stalk rot (via the push lodging test). The sugar application reduced the lodging rating by half and the fungicide application showed the lowest lodging rating. For yield, there were no significant yield differences with the untreated check yielding the most, followed by the fungicide and sugar applications. In soybeans we have had producers apply 3 pounds of sugar in 10 gallons of water at R3 (beginning pod), Rees says. In all years, there have been no significant differences in yield. Lodging ratings were not taken as that can be variety and water dependent.