Raising 300 bushels per acre would barely get you in the running in most categories in the National Corn Growers Yield Contest this year. A grower on the east coast set a record with more than 450 bushels of corn per acre. Will we begin to see these types of yields every year?
The safe answer is no. Obviously, Mother Nature cooperated, producing record yields. Not everyone got to participate, but obviously the weather was favorable enough in many areas to produce huge yields. When the weather lines up right again, the yields will likely line up as well.
So why are such high yields possible?
Here are a few ideas:
One. Genetics: Plant breeders are turning out hybrids that, more than anything else, stand up to stress. One of the stresses is having lots of neighbors. More ears equal more yield.
Two. Thick populations: The seeding rate and plant population continues to rise. In Indiana alone, it has averaged increasing by 300 plants per year over the past 30 years. It may not sound like much, but over a 10-year period that's a yield-changing increment.
Three. Better stands: The planters are there to deliver not only uniformly spaced stands, but stands that emerge uniformly. That's where the money is, says Paul Jasa, engineer at the University of Nebraska. He contends that uniform emergence, related to getting seeds placed at uniform depth, is far more important to yield than picket fence stands.
Four. Spoon-feeding nitrogen: This is a tricky nutrient to understand, but no one argues that corn needs lots of it, especially at certain times in the season. It appears to need the most when important decisions are being made in the plant.
Five. Early weed control: Those who tried to let weeds grow and then wipe them out with glyphosate are already shelving that practice. Corn plants think weeds are competitors, and you can lose your yield edge quickly.
Six. Micronutrients count: This will vary depending upon which soils you are farming. In some areas of the country it is zinc. In other areas where power plants have been cleaned up on emissions, now it is sulfur.
Seven. Jab and pull: Soil test samples and tissue samples in the season to fine-tune soil fertility practices are becoming more popular amongst those who seem to be hauling the most corn out of the field.
Eight. Apply a fungicide if needed: University results aren't showing a jump for early and late applications, but they're showing benefit for tasseling-time applications, especially on fields where the hybrid is susceptible.
Nine. Figure out bug control: Either use GMO hybrids or some of the newer soil insecticides to make sure insects don't interfere with corn production and yield potential.
Ten. Harvest on time: Be ready to harvest and dry when corn is at its peak in the early fall. Don't risk mechanical losses if weather turns sour and causes plant lodging.