Dave Nanda is convinced. The key to breaking the next yield barrier in corn will be figuring out how to place plants more evenly than they are placed by today’s modern equipment. He’s talking about row width, but not just about row width. He’s actually referring to figuring out how to place plants so that each plant is the same distance apart from its closest neighbor as the next plant- in other words, equidistant spacing.
How would you plan it? How would you combine it? There would be no way to sidedress N on it , would there? Right now, Nanda, consultant for Corn Illustrated and president of Bird Hybrids LLC Tiffin, Ohio, isn’t worried about the mechanics of growing it. He’s more interested in the principle of whether or not spacing corn out evenly shows up in a yield advantage. He figured that if he can prove the concept works, someone else will figure out the details. It’s sort of a ‘prove it and they will build it’ theme.
Corn breeders have calculated that there are enough raw ingredients available to an acre of corn, including sunlight for energy and carbon dioxide, to produce at least 500 bushels per acre. Nanda believes the physical limit as we know it today may be closer to 600 bushels per acre. But the trick is using the resources. The plant can take care of finding the carbon dioxide because air flows around the plant. It’s the light energy that Nanda believes is the sticking point. Right now, in 20-inch rows or even 15 or 20-inch rows, a considerable amount of light energy falls on the soil, harmless to the soil but not directly helping crop growth either. His ideas is that there must be a way to improve the efficiency of capturing that free resource- sunlight- and harnessing it to produce more sugar inside the plant, and hence more yield.
One experiment in this year’s Corn Illustrated project will be geared toward this issue, Nanda notes. Ideally, he would like to compare 30 inch rows to 15-inch rows, maybe even 10-inch rows, and twin rows- where two rows are planted five-inches apart, then the normal gap to the next pair of rows. Finding the equipment to do that for an on-the-farm setting is a challenge.
Plot organizers are busily looking for a company that might want to help by supplying a planter that could do these tasks in a small, field-size plot. In addition, Nanda intends to plant a section by hand at equidistant spacing, where each kernel is placed the exact same distance from any other kernel. Don’t count out his ability to do so- last year he hand-planted roughly 0.4 acres in small plots.
The idea will be to compare and look for differences in growth during the season, plus yield performance and lodging, between the methods, Nanda notes. In last year’s small plot trials, some equidistant and twin-row corn was included, but it was only for demonstration purposes. Extreme dry weather made the results difficult to interpret. Nanda hopes for a more normal, more favorable weather pattern this time around in the Corn Illustrated fields.