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Corn changes for 2013

Jeff Caldwell 08/14/2012 @ 3:48pm Multimedia Editor for Agriculture.com and Successful Farming magazine.

Most of the nation's combines are still in the shed and some farmers are already looking ahead to 2013 and thinking about how they'll apply some lessons learned this year.

Tillage, seed selection and crop rotation are just a few ways that farmers say they're considering changing their plans for next year's crops after seeing what this summer's drought has done to their fields. Some are new, some are old, but farmers agree that many changes in crop management may need to be nailed down sooner rather than later.

"The seed dealers will be chasing combines soon so we better have an idea," says Agriculture.com Farm Business Talk senior contributor Blacksandfarmer. "I think my corn management will change the most."

That change is most likely in a cutback or altogether elimination of continuous corn acres next year, as well as lower plant populations so those plants in the field can more readily access soil nutrients and moisture, 2 things that have been in extremely short supply this year.

"Seed populations will drop some," Blacksandfarmer says.

In addition to a simple drawdown in plant population, other farmers say they're considering a shift in tillage. Even though it's often touted as a way to retain more soil moisture by keeping more crop residue on the land, no-till didn't work well for farmers across different conditions in the Corn Belt.

"Looks like many learned a lesson about no-till corn in clay soil around here in southern and central Ohio," says Farm Business Talk frequent contributor buckfarmer. "Corn roots just can't get deep enough to get moisture without some primary tillage. Looks like I may need to back off my population on marginal ground as well."

Adds Farm Business Talk veteran advisor Nebrfarmr: "The no-tillers doing corn-on-corn really took a hit; in an 'average' year, they expect a little less yield but seem to prefer to farm an extra section to make their profit rather than farm fewer acres more intensively and this year, it really hurt them."

One key corn trait is also getting more attention from farmers as fall approaches. Good "flex ear" corn will likely be a hot commodity heading into next spring's planting, some farmers say. Corn varieties with good ear flex will allow ear size to flex and adjust to the growing conditions. And, a lot of farmers say that could boost their yield potential next year if it's anything like this year's growing season.

"I will start looking for good flex ear corn hybrids to complement that management change," Blacksandfarmer says of his cutback in plant populations for next year's crop. "Determinate ears are great if you farm in the heart of the Corn Belt, but for less-productive soils or areas that get less rainfall, flex ears are the way to go."

But, will flex ears do the job they're intended to do? Even if they do go through the physiological change necessary to decrease ear growth in favor of more kernel growth, that doesn't automatically make that a higher-yielding field, says University of Minnesota Extension agronomist Peter Thomison.

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