Corn School: Yield-boosting strategies heading into a dry year

Precipitation, in both the frozen and liquid form, has been scarce in a large part of the northern corn growing areas of North America, creating the prospect of planting into a possible drought.

There are several choices a grower can make to help maximize water use and mitigate drought risk, explains Alana Serhan, market development agronomist for Western Canada with Pride Seeds, in this episode of the Corn School.

First, consider ear type and plant population, she says.

While fixed ear hybrids provide consistency, flex ear hybrids respond to agronomic conditions to produce larger ears, which can make up for a lower plant population.

“If we do end up getting some timely rains throughout this growing season, if we have a semi-flex or a full flex ear, even with that population slightly lower, those ears have the potential to flex out if Mother Nature gives us what we’re asking for. They can take advantage, and come close to what it would have been with a fixed ear,” she explains.

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“If we can bump down our population a little bit, that means our overall water requirement will be slightly less as well,” continues Serhan.

For a grain corn grower targeting 34 thousand plants per acre, that might mean dropping to 32 thousand, with a similar reduction for silage corn, she says.

Leaf type, which often gets discussed regarding weed control, is another consideration for maximizing moisture, as a hybrid with a “pendulum” leaf structure will stretch out and cover the row earlier.

“We think about that same principal as it relates to water and the loss of moisture, even throughout the day,” she says. “We don’t have that evapotranspiration where our morning dew gets burnt off quickly.”

As for planting timing, it might be tempting to plant early to try to take advantage of fleeting spring moisture from snowmelt, but Serhan notes it is critical to wait for the soil temperature to reach the point where the corn will germinate properly at 10 degrees C — maybe slightly earlier if there’s a warming trend in the forecast.

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