When it Comes to Corn, It’s All About Uniformity

3/22/2014 7:00 AM
By Michael Short Delmarva Correspondent

DENTON, Md. — Every stalk should be nearly identical.

That was the message from Ken Ferrie, a field agronomist for Farm Journal magazine, who spoke at a recent meeting of farm producers in Denton, sponsored by Binkley & Hurst.

Ferrie told a roomful of farmers that a good stand of corn should be as uniform as possible, with stalks of the same height growing the same distance from each other.

Ferrie said farmers want “picket fence” stands of corn.

Uniformity will mean better pollination and more corn at harvest time, he said.

There are often things that can be done, such as planting when the soil is at the optimum temperature, to dramatically increase the quality of the crop, he said.

Some of the potential issues that can affect that uniformity include seed orientation, uneven planting depth, moisture variability, temperature variability, poor seed-to-soil contact, soil crusting, planting too deeply, and insect or disease damage, he said.

Ferrie told farmers they should plant at a good temperature instead of anticipating warmer temperatures. If it will be 70 degrees on Friday, then farmers shouldn’t plant on Monday in cold weather in anticipation of that 70-degree day.

“It’s the temperature when it’s planted that matters,” he said.

Planting before the soil is warm enough will cause more corkscrewing of the emergent germination, he said. And planting the seed facing in the wrong direction is also more of a problem when the soil is cold. When that happens, Ferrie said the plant has to emerge facing down and then turn and grow upward.

Uniformity can also protect corn from possible pests such as Japanese beetles. That’s because the beetles tend to be attracted to freshly pollinated corn. Ferrie said a uniform stand means pollination is occurring at roughly the same time across a large area of corn, which means the beetles cannot concentrate in some areas and cause greater damage.

“They’ve got to come up together,” he said.

Ferrie suggested that using a seed firmer is an easy way to pick up a few extra bushels of corn per acre by tucking the seed in consistently. It’s the equivalent of shooting the “slow rabbit” for an easy, although not major, improvement.

He urged farmers to study stalk and ear counts in order to see if they are doing a better job of planting corn.

Despite the chilly March temperatures, Ferrie said farmers could walk outside and learn much from looking at the corn stubble pattern and size remaining from last year’s crop.

“You could go here today and look at the corn stands and learn a lot,” he said.

Ferrie was asked if corn planting speeds could be increased so that corn could be planted at perhaps 10 miles per hour. He said he thought it was possible, but that things would have to change for such an approach to be successful.

“I think at 10 miles per hour, everything has to change. Today’s planters would be airborne as much as they would be in the ground,” he said. “That might be five years out.”

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