Capturing More Sunlight Key to Future Yields

300, 400, 500 bushel corn?- then use more light!

Published on: Jan 21, 2008

If there is one thing that Dave Nanda is sure about, it's that corn yields will go up. And he doesn't know when, but some day there will be corn hybrids that can handle 70,000 plants per acre and produce 500 bushels per acre. It's not know, and that' why some may get the wrong idea when Nanda advises against going as thick on seeding rates today as some suggest. Today is not tomorrow, he emphasizes.

What it will take to go the next level, or perhaps it's the next level after another level in between- whatever the case, are hybrids that can withstand plenty of plant neighbors and lots of stress, yet produce decent-sized ears. Corn ears that are big enough that when 70,000 of them roll through the combine, the yield monitor will peg out at a digital reading of 500 bushels per acre or above.

Nanda says some corn breeders, including himself, have already tried using 70,000 populations in breeding nurseries so that they can make selections from the beginning of plants more likely to withstand the stress. But the improvement doesn't come overnight. Expect it to happen over time.

The second and perhaps just as important factor, as thick seeding rate, Nanda notes, is spreading plants out at equal distances. He calls it equidistant spacing. He's convinced that there is enough sunlight to push plants to produce 500 bushels per acre or more. The trick is capturing as much sunlight as possible, and beginning that capture process as soon in the season as is feasible. Current 30-inch rows let too much sunlight hit the ground, especially early in the season, he says. That's lost energy absorbed into the soil that could have been used for photosynthesis instead.

Nanda has experimented with 10-inch rows before, and saw increased yield, but only in small plot situations. He also tried twin rows, 15-inch rows and even narrower rows in Corn Illustrated plots last year, but they were only demonstration plots, and weren't taken to yield. Besides, an unusually dry, hot summer and no irrigation on ground with gravel underneath it made it a tough season to make comparisons.

A row spacing study on a field scale is planned for the Corn Illustrated plots in '08, if everything goes as planned. In addition, since there is no planter yet available for commercial, practical use that can plant equi-distant spacing, Nanda intends to hand-plot a trial area of equi-distant spacing by himself.

Look for interesting results next fall!