Managing for 300-bu. corn (part one)

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Cold, wet soils are making 300-bushel corn less and less likely this year. Heck, 200-bu. corn will be a challenge. But with super seed genetics, more intense input management and a little luck from Mother Nature, the 300-bu. per acre mark is getting closer for more corn farmers.

A lot of guys are getting yield jumps with triple stack corn, higher populations, micro managing planting and spraying, and more liberal use of fungicides. In other words, they're making the right decisions with high priced seed.

"These elite genetics today are fantastic for yield potential,•bCrLf says Mike Toohill, Midwest Seed Genetics agronomist (below). In fact you can get dry,

stressed out corn early but if it's consistent and a crop-saving rain comes along in July, you can still break 200 bushel per acre on the right soils.

New genetics are coming on the market at super speed so you need a good, trusting relationship with your seed dealer if you want to take advantage of that yield potential. Two-year-old genetics are already obsolete.

It's an uphill battle, but 300 bushels per acre is within your reach today. Here's how:

Planting It starts with the planter - the most important field trip you make all year. Wet weather and cold soils complicate the issue, but it doesn't change the fact that your first step toward 300 is a picket-fence stand.

Good technique includes a properly calibrated planter. "Skips or doubles in the row are problematic, because that guy is spending just as much money as the guy who is getting picket fence stands,•bCrLf says Mike Musselman, regionally representative for Precision Planting Inc., an Illinois-based equipment company focusing on meters, planting tools and planters. "You could have a $150,000 planter and $200,000 tractor and still have poor stands.•bCrLf

Some guys believe because they spent so much money on tractors and planters they shouldn't have to get out and check their rows — but that's not the case, Musselman says. "You still have to go back and dig.•bCrLf

Push populations With high-tech seed in most cases you should be pushing populations. "On highly managed soil types - black dirt - almost all of our elite genetics should be planted in the mid 30,000 (seed per acre) if you want a shot at 300,•bCrLf says Toohill.

"If you are comfortable dropping 32,000 go to 34,000; if you are comfortable at 34,000 go to 36,000; if you are comfortable dropping 36,000, stay there,•bCrLf he recommends.

Will higher seeding rates payoff, even with hybrid corn that costs over $200 per bag?  IowaState agronomists analyzed current corn prices vs. seed costs and populations and found that regardless of price, 36,000 population gives maximum yield and net income.

The 30,000 rate gave a slightly lower return if producers have to cut seed costs. 42,000 and 48,000 rates have lower net returns for both 180 and 220 bu. yields. A 24,000 rate lowers returns, but not as much as the 48,000 seeding rate.

Don't let soil type scare you from pushing populations, even on light soil. If it is a total drought on these soils, yields will be disappointing whether you have a final stand of 24,000 or 30,000. Yes, you're out 6,000 seeds in those bad years, but in the 9 out of 10 years you don't have that problem, that extra seed will pay dividends.

Row spacings Conventional wisdom says narrower rows equal high yields, but as long as the populations are there any row spacing works with today's taller genetics, says Toohill. "Your basic 35,000 population on 36-inch rows is ideal for many situations,•bCrLf he adds. "You have a little less disease pressure with wider rows, too. Expect disease pressure, such as anthracnose, in 15-inch rows.•bCrLf

Emergence Plant-to-plant picket fence stands are one reason why corn is pushing higher yields. "That's attainable every year barring an uncertain, uncontrollable weather event,•bCrLf says Musselman (below, right). "Our goal is to find at least 2 more ears per 17.5 foot ear count; to eliminate

skips; and to eliminate improper emergence.•bCrLf

In a ten year study of over 350 corn fields in Ohio and Indiana, 84% of fields had potential yield losses of 5 to 12.5 bushels per acre. "Most corn producers are losing $15 to $20 per acre due to low ear count or poor seed germination,•bCrLf says Musselman.

Skips and doubles result in fewer harvestable ears — that's what makes grain. Are you getting the optimal number of ears for the population you are planting? If you're falling 1,000 to 2000 harvestable ears below your planting population, barring bad weather, you have a problem.

Next: How fertility and fungicides kick yields to higher levels.

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