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Packing them in

Updated: 03/11/2013 @ 10:06am

It's all about higher plant populations and 12-inch rows in this seed company trial.

Contributors:  Manufacturer, Des Keller

Myron Stine will be the first to admit that researchers at the Iowa-based seed company that bears the family name can't tell you why corn with certain genetics performs better in a high-plant population environment.

That hasn't stopped Stine Seed Company from pushing full steam ahead to identify as many corn lines that thrive at higher populations as possible.

“There are variables we can't see,” says Stine, the firm's vice president of sales and marketing. “We do believe the only way in the future to hit the high yield levels desired is by planting higher populations. That just so happens to involve narrow rows to make it work right.”

Narrow as in 12-inch rows – 3 inches less than what most anyone is farming right now. “If you want, in Iowa, to average 300 bushels per acre consistently, the realistic answer is more plants per acre,” Stine says. Corn planted at traditional levels on super high-fertility ground and spoon-fed nutrients can get high yields, he says, but not with the regularity that could be accomplished with higher populations per acre and the right hybrid.

How high?

Stine is talking populations up to 60,000 plants per acre. This year, the company is putting its money where its research is – getting producers to try higher population corn.

“If you're willing to dabble with high-population corn, we'll pay for any corn over 38,000 plants per acre,” says Stine.

The incentive will likely be necessary. As of 2009, U.S. farmers grew just 4% to 5% of corn in 15- or 20-inch rows.

Such extreme narrow-row corn doesn't mean the individual plants have less room to grow. In research at Stine Seed Company, plants are spaced 10 to 12 inches apart in the row, as opposed to the 5 to 7 inches apart in more traditional 30-inch rows.

One of the company's new 2013 hybrids, 9733 VT3 Pro, is a 112-day corn bred for planting at higher populations. The company will also be conducting trials on more than 600 of its existing hybrids at populations of 45,000 to 65,000 plants per acre. Such trials will help the firm determine which of its hybrids are adapted to high populations, says Stine.

Shorter plants and upright leaves

Stine Seed Company is one of about six corn-breeding companies in the U.S., and it screens more than 60,000 unique lines of corn germplasm each year. Originally a soybean seed company (and still the biggest provider of soybean genetics), Stine Seed Company began breeding corn in the 1970s. Founder Harry Stine (Myron's father) is the research director responsible for the company's emphases.

The new high-population corn bred for 12-inch rows does look a bit different than typical hybrid plants. The plant is shorter than usual – by as much as 1½ feet – and its leaves are more upright than outstretched.

45,000 The number of acres Stine Seeds expects its new high-population 9733 vt3 pro hybrid to be planted to in 2013.

The Stines grew 2,300 acres of the corn on their own farms last year.

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