As farmers prepare for the 2022 season, the Golden Harvest agronomy team recommends three research-backed corn management practices that can maximize yield potential: optimizing corn seeding rates, implementing narrow row spacing and enhancing nutrient management.
Select the optimum corn seeding rate for your fields
When thinking about planting density, the goal is to maximize the number of ears per acre while maintaining kernels per ear and kernel size.
“But optimizing seeding rates can be complicated,” said Bruce Battles, technical agronomy manager for Syngenta. “Optimum seeding rates vary with soil productivity levels and hybrids can respond differently to population increases, making seeding rate selection difficult.”
To help determine seeding rates, Battles recommends starting with seeding rate trial data.
The Golden Harvest agronomy team has seeding rate trial data going back 30 years, with tests ranging from 20,000 to 44,000 seeds per acre. The Golden Harvest seeding rate trial data is used to update the Corn Seeding Rate Calculator on the Golden Harvest website ― a free, data-based tool that helps farmers estimate the most economical seeding rate for individual Golden Harvest corn hybrids and yield environments. The calculations are based on two or more years of hybrid data from trial locations across the Corn Belt.
“The calculator is a great tool for applying specific seeding rates to Golden Harvest hybrids when building variable rate planter scripts this spring,” said Battles.
Finally, Battles encourages farmers to consider the agronomics of corn hybrids before locking in final seeding rates. For some hybrids, increased seeding rates can lead to greater risk of root and stalk lodging and may not realize any gain in yield potential. Meanwhile, some fixed ear hybrids are extremely population driven and consistently respond to increasing seeding rates.
“Local Golden Harvest Seed Advisors can use these resources and their local product knowledge to build out the best seeding rate recommendations on a field-by-field level,” said Battles.
Determine the right row spacing for your cornfields
Like seeding rate, row spacing response in corn is heavily dependent on the environment and hybrids planted. However, as corn farmers adopt higher seeding rates, narrowing row spacing may be a way to see additional yield benefits while minimizing lodging risks.
“Narrow rows allow for an increased seeding rate without crowding plants closer together within the row, resulting in less interplant competition,” said Battles. “Since the average corn seeding rate in the U.S. is increasing by an average of 400 seeds per acre per year, implementing narrow rows will be a necessary management practice to accommodate growing plant populations somewhere in the near future.”
Row spacing less than 30 inches wide is considered narrow rows. The Golden Harvest agronomy team implemented narrow row spacing trials at several Agronomy in Action locations; and while results varied by location, most trials showed the following:
• Yield benefits from narrow rows may not be realized unless seeding rates are also increased
• Narrow rows allow better seed spacing with higher seeding rates, which decreases interplant competition for resources
• Narrowing row spacing can make plants more efficient at capturing light and help minimize root lodging risk by maintaining root size with higher seeding rates
Battles noted that switching to narrow row spacing requires significant commitment to change in wheel spacing and narrow row headers that will take time to recoup. He also reiterated that narrow row spacing may not make sense for every farmer and every acre.
“Hybrids in different geographies respond differently to changes in row spacing,” said Battles. “I suggest farmers contact their local Seed Advisor to select a hybrid that performs well in narrower rows in their yield environments.”
Balance your fields’ soil nutrients
Soil fertility is a crucial component of high yield potential corn production.
“But it’s not about just adding more nutrients,” said Steve Wilkens, Golden Harvest agronomy manager for the East. “It’s about careful nutrient placement and timing to make sure we can grow good corn, even on a conservative nutrient budget. We want to be as efficient as possible and see a return on our investment.”
Wilkens recommends farmers place nutrients in a concentrated area around plant roots to enhance nutrient uptake and ultimately make the plant more efficient in producing kernels.
Understanding the correct amount of fertilizer to apply is also important, as excessive levels of one nutrient will affect the uptake of others. For example, inadequate potassium soil levels may reduce the effectiveness of adding more nitrogen, which can, in turn, harm late-season stalk integrity.
“Often times, nutrient imbalances show up in late-season standability and stalk integrity, which slow down the combine, increase fuel use and decrease efficiency at harvest,” said Wilkens. “These are costs we can avoid when we understand nutrients and where they’re needed.”