The year was 1988. An early drought from spring through mid-summer left corn at a whopping disadvantage. Many fields recovered to post decent yields if they caught rains in time. However, that was one of the first years when corn after corn in no-till systems showed markedly lower yields than even corn after corn in tillage systems.
It's no surprise then that in a stress year for many areas, especially central Illinois through much of the Eastern Corn Belt, with perhaps Indiana being the epicenter of stress and drought and all sorts of problems with corn being planted late and pollinating under very high temperatures, that early reports indicate corn after corn is taking it on the chin again this year. That's probably more likely in corn after corn fields.
There will likely be exceptions. Some are focusing exclusively on corn after corn and have adapted their systems to higher soil fertility and practices that favor corn after corn. But early yield reports indicate corn after corn if falling considerably short of corn after soybeans this year.
How are farmers who want to raise corn every year make the practice work. Here are a few tips picked up from farmers. Del Unger, Carlisle, Ind., favors corn after corn, and was featured on the Indiana Farm Management tour this summer. Many of these comments relate to practices he's applied in his system.
Adopt an aggressive fertility program. If you're going for top yield in corn after corn, even in land that's only average, you must feed the crop, Unger says.
Set goal to be least cost per bushel producer. Note that you won't be the least cost producer on inputs. In fact, Unger, for example, knows he invests more in fertilizer and other inputs than many others raising corn. His goal is maximum production, and spreading those dollars invested over more bushels.
Work with good advisors. Take advantage of agronomists, whether they are independent consultants or work for large co-ops or a private dealership. Let them carry out an aggressive soil sampling program, and pay attention to the results.
Remember that high yields may need micronutrients. Don't be afraid to invest in zinc or other micronutirents if your advisor says it should help, especially in corn after corn.
Pay attention to hybrid selection. Depending on where you live, this may even be more important now after entomologists have reported this summer that GMO hybrids with a certain rootworm trait aren't protecting against rootworms as well as they once did. Take that into consideration if you are counting on genetic traits to protect you against rootworms
Pay special attention to nitrogen. This nutrient may be one you want to apply several items during the season if you're in an intensive continuous corn program designed to produce high yields when the weather cooperates. Even if it doesn't, as was the case for some this year, your corn should still have the best chance to perform as best it can if it's fed properly. Make sure some of the N goes down early so that corn isn't making decisions about ear size when it's short on nitrogen.