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Thickness thoughts

Agriculture.com Staff 04/27/2009 @ 1:32pm

Sometimes, accidents spur some unintended beneficial innovations.

In 1928, Sir Alexander Fleming threw away a glass culture dish that a fungus had contaminated.

Several years later, that fungus took on a more familiar name -- penicillin.

Accidental innovation occurs with farmers, too. In 2006, Matt Mayer, Spencer, Iowa, had the wrong sprocket on his corn planter and accidentally planted 20 acres at 41,000 plants per acre (ppa). This exceeded his normal 30,000-ppa rate.

Throughout the growing season, Mayer watched that area to see if any problems developed. None did. The news got even better at harvest.

"The yield monitor swung up to 35 to 40 bushels more when I went over that part of the field," he says.

That convinced Mayer he could plant thicker. He now plants corn between 34,000 and 38,000 ppa, depending on past field yields and soil types. In 2009, he also plans to vary population rates within two fields based on past yields and soil types.

Other farmers have found similar responses. "We used to plant 30,000 plants per acre," says Jon Stock, who farms with his brother, Aaron, near Beardstown, Illinois. "We started experimenting with several hybrids, planting them at 30,000-, 32,000-, 34,000-, and 36,000-ppa rates."

On-farm research findings prompted them to bump their overall farm seeding rate to 32,000 ppa in 2008. They showed a 6-bushel-per-acre yield increase.

The Stock brothers planted triple-stack corn resistant to glyphosate, European corn borer, and corn rootworm.

"When you figure a $3.25-per-1,000-seeds cost, we spent $6.50 more per acre more in seed," says Jon Stock. "We figured it increased yields 6 bushels an acre. Even at $3-per-bushel corn, we nearly tripled our return."

This spring, they plan to increase seeding rates even more, at 34,000 to 35,000 ppa, across their farm.

Sometimes, accidents spur some unintended beneficial innovations.

Before you help blow your seed dealer's sales quota out of the water, remember that boosting populations don't automatically pay. Weather greatly influences what degree of yield response – if any -- you garner.

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