Why Corn Plants Do Better When They Get More Light

The calendar says it's time to plant once the soil gets right. Should you?

Published on: Apr 5, 2010
By all means, plant as soon as soil and temperature conditions are right. Get the corn planter rolling.. That would be the advice offered by Dave Nanda, a plant breeder and crops consultant based in Indianapolis.

In fact, Nanda offers it as a business proposition. If you want to up yields without buying new machinery and with the hybrids avai
le today, figure out how to take greater advantage of the free energy offered by Mother Nature each year- sunlight. It's sunlight that powers photosynthesis, and it's photosynthesis that produces starches and sugars that make plant factories, then allow those factories to produce food.

"The easiest and least expensive way to make greater use of free energy is by planting early," Nanda says. "It's established that in most situations, early planting produces higher yields. However, the reason for higher yields isn't explained."

Nanda believes he has the answer. It has to do with sunlight, he says. "The longest day of the year in the northern hemisphere is June 21," he begins. "During the two-month period from May 21 to July 20, we get more sunshine than at any other time of the year."

Plants capture the greatest amount of sunlight if planting is early enough to have a full canopy by May 21, the veteran plant breeder notes. "Forget about knee high by the Fourth of July," he scoffs. "I think it should be tasseling by the Fourth of July.

Even people in areas outside of
Indiana farther north are planting earlier than what was once considered traditional planting dates. An Iowa
farmer who Nanda works with near the Iowa-Minnesota border starts planting by April 15, or earlier if weather permits. He intends to be done planting corn and soybeans by May 10. This farmer gets some of the highest yields in his area every year. And he does it with non-GMO hybrids that don't have protective traits against certain insects.

Nanda has paid careful attention to planting date and its effect upon plants for many years. Early planting generally results in shorter plants with less root and stalk lodging, he says. Plus, grain quality si often better. The corn is usually drier at harvest.

"So not only do you trap energy from the sun, but you save energy after harvest if you don't have to dry it as much," he says. "Farming is a gamble, but you'll have higher yields by planting too early than too late in nine times out of 10."