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Across the Editor's Desk: Corn on corn -- 1950s style!

LOREN KRUSE 08/01/2012 @ 10:14am Editor-in-Chief Successful Farming

While recently flipping through some old issues of Successful Farming magazine, one story in particular caught my eye. It was from the April 1956 edition and was titled, “How to grow continuous corn.” One day earlier, I had read the final version of Crops Technology Editor Gil Gullickson's four-page feature, “What is it with corn on corn?”

Gullickson's story is just the latest over the past six decades on the payoff and challenges of growing corn after corn and continuous corn (three years or more). Nearly 30% of U.S. corn acres this year are corn following corn. Gullickson recaps the reasons for the disappointing yields for corn following corn in some areas over the past several years.

He also lays out a five-step systems approach for success used by Dan and Darren Shaw of Edgar, Nebraska. 1. Clear and spread corn residue by using wider, 36-inch rows. 2. Avoid stalks and residue as much as possible where you plant and apply fertilizer. 3. Select the right hybrids. 4. Step up fertility. 5. Watch for rootworm trait failure.

As a farm boy in the 1950s, I recall the beginning of several trends that really accelerated in the 1960s. One was the introduction of cheap synthetic fertilizers and chemical weed control. Another was the dramatic rise in soybeans and decline in oats. In 1950, oats covered 40 million acres – double that of soybeans. By 1960, their acreages were equal. By 1980, soybeans covered 70 million acres; oats covered under 10 million.

The 1950s was also a time of overproduction and acreage allotments. Some farmers saw continuous corn as a way to keep their best land in its most profitable use on allotted acres every year. They considered oats, hay, and soybeans as crops for less-productive and hilly acres.

The 1956 article presented three methods for growing continuous corn. What most interested me was that two of the methods involved used a cover crop – a practice that's garnered considerable interest and application again in the past decade. The Rye Method was described as requiring the fewest changes. The Mulch Method eliminated plowing but added chopping stalks. The Wide-Row Method involved planting in 60-inch rows, harvesting with a one-row picker, and intercrop seeding rye, alfalfa, or clover in June, then clipping later with a belly mower.

For a fun look back at the three methods used by early adoptors for continuous corn in the 1950s, view an online step-by-step slideshow at www.agriculture.com/cornoncorn. You never know what you might learn – or relearn!

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