A college-age son once told his dad, a corn breeder, that he figured his dad was busy trying to develop the biggest corn ear possible. The breeder politely told his son that, no, that wasn't the key to the highest yield possible. The key, the breeder said, was figuring out how to have as many ears as possible. If the ears were somewhat smaller, the sheer volume of them would raise yields if plants could support them.
That's where we are today, says Dave Nanda, consultant for Seed Consultants, Inc. He believes the future belongs to those who can grow as many as 70,000 plants in equidistant spacing and harvest uniform, if relatively smaller, ears.
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In the meantime, however, with hybrids more suited to 30,000 to 35,000 plants per acre, number of rows around the ear and kernels per row, make a huge difference. He recently found two different hybrids in the same field, and discovered that one consistently put on 16 rows of kernels and one only put on 14, even in a favorable growing season like this one. Row number is highly genetic, he says. Environment influences it usually only if it is a stressful year.
The ears with more rows tended to be slightly shorter, however, with 40 kernels per row, still a good number. The ears with 14 rows tended to be a few kernels longer, at 42-44 kernels per row.
When he crunched the numbers in formula for estimating yield, he still came out with a 10 bushel advantage for the hybrid that put more rows of kernels around the ear. Exactly how much advantage depends upon precisely how many kernels finish per row.
Yields in fields with hybrid producing ears with 16 to 18 rows of kernels and 40 or more kernels per row could be very high, he notes. The final factor will be grain fill during this month, though it could be largely dependent on weather.
For more corn news, corn crop scouting information and corn diseases to watch for, follow Tom Bechman's column, Corn Illustrated Weekly, published every Tuesday.