Corn School: Making the case for narrow rows

Corn is a grass and we should grow it like one.

That’s Illinois farmer Marion Calmer’s management mantra, and he preaches it where ever he travels. Last month, Calmer brought his corn philosophy to the SouthWest Agricultural Conference at Ridgetown, Ont.

On this episode of RealAgriculture’s Corn School, Calmer summarizes his six secrets to producing top corn yields. Not surprisingly, his first secret — and the foundation of his approach — is planting corn in narrow rows.

Calmer is a huge proponent of on-farm research — he’s been conducting trials for 33 years. His research shows narrow-row corn delivers a $78 per acre profit advantage on his farm. That includes a 12 bu/ac advantage ($48), eliminating one herbicide pass ($20) and faster planting and harvesting ($10).

Calmer, who started Calmer Corn Heads 23 years ago, admits that narrow-row corn does present soil compaction challenges and to be successful growers need to tinker with tires. Tall, skinny tires have a smaller footprint, he notes, but they produce more compaction. He prefers bigger floater tires, tracks, or anything with a belt. Story continues after the video.

Having the right population is also a secret to Calmer’s success. His research shows 15-inch rows planted at a 28,000 per acre population delivers the highest profit on his farm. Nitrogen is also a key contributor. Calmer gets $4 of corn for every $1 he spends on nitrogen. He generally applies 150 pounds in the fall, which is a pretty standard practice in his area of the Corn Belt.

In the interview, Calmer also shares his thoughts on the value of P and K fertilizer — they are money-losers based on his research. The final keys to producing top yields for Calmer include effective residue management and setting the combine correctly.

Click here for more Corn School videos.

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