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Corn Growing 101

Corn is the number one commodity grown by U.S. farmers and for good reason. For years, the price of corn has risen and technology advances continue to find new ways to use the popular grain grown by hardworking corn farmers.

Most of the U.S. corn crop comes from corn farms in the Midwest with Iowa and Illinois growing a third of the total corn crop alone. On this page, you’ll find the basics of planting, growing, and harvesting the most popular grain amongst U.S. farmers.

The Ever-Resilient Corn Plant

Corn plants will fight to thrive depending on growing season conditions. When stressed for water, corn plants will send down roots deep enough to reach moisture. In a relatively moist year, corn plants put down strong roots but at more shallow depths.

With accidental innovators like Harry Stine pushing out proven research, higher corn yields that correlate directly with higher corn populations is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the future of growing corn.

There are two main types of corn – sweet corn and field corn.

How to Plant Corn

When farmers are itching to get into the fields to plant, it’s important to remember that soil temperatures should be at 50°F. for a strong start for corn seed germination. Corn planting time all depends on the seed variety being planted and, of course, weather conditions. Corn planting depth is another important factor to consider, one that farmers often overlook according to Bob Nielsen. “Human nature, being what it is, tends to make us simply leave the planter’s depth-control setting at the same position as in previous years,” the Purdue University agronomist explains. In this article, Nielsen explains the factors to consider to achieve even emergence.

If weather works against the seedlings, replanting may be an option. Young corn can’t survive in standing water for over four days and sometimes last only 48 hours before oxygen levels drop off. When contemplating replant, consider previous herbicide applications and take current stand counts throughout the problem areas before you decide if a replant is the best option for your operation. You may want to switch to an earlier maturity hybrid if it’s later in the season.

How to Grow Corn

There’s no official guidebook for how to grow corn because growth is so dependent on weather conditions. If the weather is too cool and wet, Northern Corn Leaf Blight could set in. Hot and dry weather may create the perfect environment for root rot and common smut. Besides these common diseases, there are a plethora of other pests to manage.

One way to give corn its best shot at thriving is through proper nutrient management. Choosing the right fertilizer and application dates are key to yield success. Pay close attention to nitrogen (N), phosphorous (P), potassium (K), sulfur (S), and zinc (Zn) for healthy corn plants. Plants deficient in N, P, and K, especially, will never reach their full yield potential.

Fall applications can be made dependent on location and soil type. If it’s still recommended by your local Extension, remember to wait until the soils are 50°F. and trending cooler. N inhibitors are another way to protect your investment – in both the spring and fall.

Bigger, Better Corn Hybrids

Farmers have never had more choices when it comes to corn hybrids and that won’t change anytime soon. The future is bright for corn traits as corn rootworm-resistant and herbicide-tolerant stacks are in the works right now. Those are just two of the corn stacks pending regulatory approval, but advances are being made every day by agricultural scientists and agronomists.

The use of gene editing is the secret sauce behind the impressive corn plants of the future. Unlike genetically modified organism (GMO) technology, gene editing can change the behavior of a plant without introducing any foreign material into the plant. Gene editing is also faster and more accurate than GMO technology, which means faster solutions for issues farmers face in the fields each year.  

How to Harvest Corn

When it’s corn harvest time, farmers have little time for much else. When moisture levels are in the 23% to 25% range, combines should be ready to roll. However, adjusting a combine is a balancing act—and one that needs to be performed well in advance. Make these seven tweaks to your combine to ensure a speedy, efficient harvest this year.

A number of issues can come into play during harvest. Everything from wet corn to downed corn to freezing conditions and more. If facing downed corn, check out these nine tips for harvesting as many bushels as you can in a tricky situation. Stalk rot flourishes in lodged corn, so prioritize those fields in your harvest schedule.

Aiming for High Corn Yields

High yields are the trophy at the end of the marathon that is the growing season. If high-yield factors like nutrients, hybrid type, plant populations, and specific management practices are in place, agronomists see consistent yield increases when applying a fungicide at tassel. However, it can be hard to know what specific factors are helping or hindering your yield goals.

Yield contests are perfect resources for finding how to boost your bushels per acre. Although plots are often under intense management, yield contest plots a great way to see what results can come from heavy scouting, sampling, and responding quickly to plant needs. If entering a contest, start with the basics and look for room for improvement. And if watching, take notes!

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