Will Spraying Corn With Sugar Be the Next Big Thing?

CORN ILLUSTRATED: It's too early to say, but some farmers and researchers are trying it.

Published on: Feb 18, 2014

Kevin Kalb of Dubois County, Ind., won his division of the National Corn Grower's Contest with over 370 bushels per acre on his contest plot in 2013. Because it was making more than 300 bushels per acre, additional checks were run to verify the yield. It was a 'bin buster.'

One of the things he tried on his contest field that he didn't do on other fields was spray sugar and liquid carbon over the top while the crop was growing.

"I talked to other successful contestants in the contest from years past, and some of them are trying adding sugar as a foliar application," Kalb says. "So we gave it a try this year. The idea is to give the plants extra energy at a key time in the growth cycle. It makes sense that it would help."

Would sugar help? If you could apply a dose of sugar to the crop at this stage, would it help yields? There is some positive indication that it might, but the jury is still out.
Would sugar help? If you could apply a dose of sugar to the crop at this stage, would it help yields? There is some positive indication that it might, but the jury is still out.

Since Kalb didn't run comparison strips, there's no way to know if it really helped or not. However, Mike Earley, with Seed Consultants, Inc, based in Washington Courthouse, Ohio, is an agronomist who did run replicated trials on the potential practice last summer. He also heard about it by talking with customers of theirs who had done well in the corn yield contest in previous years.

Related: Will Addition Of Sugar Sweeten Corn Performance?

Earley determined that at the 7 pounds of sugar per acre rate, there was an increase of more than 6 bushels per acre, well above the cost of the sugar and application. The response was higher at the 7 pounds per acre rate than the 3 pounds per acre rate. He used a commercial dextrose sugar spray solution, applying it himself. He tried the same thing on soybeans and didn't see a yield response.

There's a reason why he sprayed it himself, Earley says. Commercial applicators aren't too excited about applying sugar through their equipment. Obviously, sugar becomes sticky in solution, and it can require extra effort to clean up equipment after making the application.