How to Grow Whopper Ears

More proof extra sunlight helps.

Published on: Jan 28, 2008

Small, hand-planted plots in the Corn Illustrated plots a year ago provided an excellent chance to see what happens when corn plants only have competition from other corn plants on one side of the row. Since the small plots were one/one-thousandth acre with a 5 foot gap between the next block, and with a 60-inch gap on either side of the plot before the real field started, there were plenty of opportunities to view what happened when corn plants didn't have lots of competition.

The answer shouldn't surprise you. They put on and fill big ears, even in a dry season. That lack of competition for sunlight and moisture really sets them up to perform well, notes Dave Nanda, president of Bird Hybirds, LLC., Tiffin, Ohio, and consultant for the exclusive Farm Progress Corn Illustrated plots.

"It's something that plant breeders have observed for a long time, " Nanda says. "If you want to find and pick the biggest ears, go to the outside of the plot. If soil fertility and other factors are equal, that's where the big ears will be."

In many of the small, hand-planted 17 feet, 5 inch rows last summer, ears on both ends on the first stalk were either normal size or larger than normal, while stress soon took its toll as you moved into the plot from either end. Those ears would be smaller, especially if maturity caused the hybrid to pollinate and try to fill kernels in the worst part of the drought experienced at the plots last year. The plot was not-irrigated, and roots ran into gravel at three feet. To make matters worse, there were about 40 days in south-central Indiana where the mercury in the thermometer either hit or soared past 90 degrees F. that's more than double the number of days that normally are that hot in an average summer in the area.

Some folks have tried to cash in on the bigger ear on the outside theory by raising alternating strips of corn and soybeans. Beck's Hybrids, Atlanta,. Ind., have tried it for the past few years. Results vary. One problem is that if the corn does yield more compared to a solid, 30-inch row field of corn, soybeans may yield less. That's because why extra sunlight helps the corn, shading and lack of sunlight hampers the soybeans planted closest to the corn.

Nanada hopes to take advantage of the theory that extra sunlight factors plants on the outside and helps them producer bigger ears by figuring out a way to space corn at the same distance from each other. He reasons that equi-distant spacing should provide the best opportunity for all plants to capture the maximum amount of sunlight, and produce as much corn as possible.

Right now there is no commercial planter known to plant equidistant spacing effectively and efficiently. But that doesn't stop Nanda from experimenting. He figures that if plant breeders someday come up with hybrids that work well in such a system, equipment engineers won't be far behind in designing planters and harvesting equipment that make growing corn in such a pattern practical.