A winning football team understands its strengths and weaknesses and also scouts their opponent to understand their tendencies, strengths and weaknesses. Winning coaches put their players in a position to succeed by building a game plan to take advantage of their talents and address their shortcomings. It’s no different when it comes to achieving high corn yields.
1. Understand Environment First
Start by evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of each field you intend to plant to corn. Look over previous years of yield data, soil fertility, scouting notes and any additional information you have. What are your biggest risks; nitrogen loss, poor potassium levels, drought prone soils? How do you plan to eliminate or reduce those risks? For example, Advanced Agrilytics research shows that on water limited acres the chances of achieving 200-bushel corn are less than 50% if your soil test phosphorus levels are less than 25 ppm.
2. Review Product Options Based on Environment
Rather than purchasing all your hybrids and then trying to find a spot for each product, evaluate each field and choose a hybrid that has strengths well suited to that environment and your management style. Does a hybrid have strong emergence, good stay green, excellent early vigor? Does it gain its yield from kernel depth or sacrifice kernels when stress occurs soon after pollination? A hybrid that aggressively allocates its sucrose stores (stored carbohydrates in the lower nodes of the corn stalk) to the ear is set up for failure if you plan to plant it in a field that you always harvest late. It likely won’t have the stalk strength to stand until late harvest.
3. Consider Variable Rate Planting by Environment to Maximize Productivity
Another option to optimize product performance is variable rate seeding. A flat seeding rate across a whole field can result in drought prone or poor fertility areas being stressed from corn populations that are too high. Additionally, highly productive areas with good fertility and adequate moisture may be planted at populations so low that the ear cannot flex enough to maximize yield potential. By combining an understanding of anticipated moisture availability and fertility levels you can create a seeding recommendation that captures yield potential with the right population by environment.
In football, a cornerback blitz achieves the desired outcome of pressuring the quarterback, but it also leaves a receiver open. The defensive coordinator minimizes this risk by putting a linebacker or safety on that receiver. On water limited acres variable rate seeding scripts reduce the number of seeds being planted. This compensates for the risk of running out of moisture by giving plants more room for each root mass and decreases competition for moisture and nutrients. However, when we reduce populations there without also considering that those environments experience reduced nutrient availability and slowed crop growth, we are putting that hybrid in position to fail. In these environments we have found that building soil phosphorus and potassium levels can help ensure adequate nutrient uptake. Front-loading and building nutrient levels creates larger plants at V6 to help close the canopy, conserve moisture, and store nutrients in the plant that can be reallocated later in the season.
4. Remember the Importance of Organic Matter
On well drained, higher organic matter soils, there is strong yield potential, season-long moisture availability and less potential for nitrogen loss. These are the areas where seeding rates will be pushed the highest. Getting the population right provides the opportunity to capitalize on additional management practices. Before going overboard ensure the pH, phosphorus and potassium levels are adequate to support season long nutrient needs. It is also critical to ensure that the nitrogen program is adequate to ensure season long nitrogen needs. High yield zones where fertility levels are inadequate should be seeded at lower rates than high yielding zones with strong fertility levels.
5. Evaluate Yield Per Thousand
Evaluate your yield per thousand seeds (YPT). If your current YPT is 5 (for example 180 bu./acre yield with a population of 36000; 180/36=5) or 6 it may be unreasonable to expect increased yields by increasing population unless you address other factors first. If your present YPT is greater than 8 there is a good chance increasing seeding rates could result in a yield bump.
6. Study Product Strengths & Weaknesses
Finally take the hybrid’s strengths and weaknesses into account. Products with poor stalk or root ratings may achieve higher yields with increased populations but you will also increase the risk of lodging. Some hybrids are known to have very good ear flex or may abort kernels aggressively at high populations; these products should not be planted as thick as products with fixed ears.
Winning football teams are fundamentally sound and pay attention to the details on offense, defense and special teams. Successful corn management requires understanding the environment and paying attention to the details in every environment of a field. Let the agronomists at Advanced Agrilytics help you to put a winning plan in place to reduce risk and maximize potential this growing season.