Row Spacing Could Be Big Factor for Bumping Corn Yields

More corn can come from higher yields, not just more acres.

Published on: May 11, 2007

Those concerned there isn’t enough corn to fuel all the ethanol plants currently under construction or in planning stages in Indiana and around the Midwest look for ways to bring more acres into production. Many agronomists, including Barry Fisher with the Indiana Conservation Tillage Institute, say it’s a matter of taking advantage of every acre, and boosting yields there, rather than just looking for new land.

Fisher believes there are still ways to boost yield in corn production. Getting nitrogen rates right and raising pH to most productive levels by applying lime where needed, especially with the aid of variable rate technology, are just two of the ways that can be done, he notes. Soil testing in regular programs on every farm could add to the corn production total as well.

Another possible source of increased efficiency could be more efficient spacings than just 20-inch rows. Dave Nanda, a plant breeder with forty years of experience and assistant for the Farm Progress Corn Illustrated plots, believes that future production systems that shoot toward 300, 400, 500 or more bushels per acre may utilize different row spacings that better utilize light than how plants are positioned in 30-inch rows today.

Nanda has tried 20-inch rows and 10-inch rows. He has approached equidistant spacing of corn plants in 10-inch rows. His trials so far lead him to believe there are opportunities for such spacings. As proof that there are difference sin how plants utilize light in these various row setups, he has taken chlorophyll readings with SPAD meters on each different spacing in the same plots. Here is almost always a difference, with the reading making it clear to see why there might be an advantage for equidistant spacing, he notes.

The Corn Illustrated plots on Jim Facemire’s farm near Edinburgh this year, where Nanda is assisting, will offer insight into how various row spacings can impact yield potential. Small plots of various spacing configurations are already in the ground. Arrangements that are being tried include 10-icnh, 20-inch and 30-inch row comparisons, plus twin rows. The twin rows are approximately two 5-inch rows, side by side, then a 25-inc gap to the next set of rows.

Nanda will supervise thinning to appropriate populations once plants emerge. The twin-row plot was included since some farmers, equipped with RTK technology, are now trying twin rows by doubling back. They’re doing it in fields where they can measure yields. Indications last year say that twin rows could jump yields 12-15 bushels per acre, depending upon the hybrid included in the trial.

Stay tuned for word on these studies as the season unfolds.