Strategies to boost corn yields

Replacing factory closing wheels is first and foremost.

There aren’t many silver bullets for boosting corn yields. Multiple years of research at Beck’s Hybrids, however, has uncovered one surefire strategy: Replace the factory closing wheels on your planter. 

Jonathan Perkins and Joe Bolte, Beck’s Practical Research Farm (PFR) location lead and herbicide specialist, respectively, agree that using closing wheels with a finger-type edge will improve yields of spring-planted crops. The company has tested five products over the past three years, with average-bushel-per-acre increase in corn/soybeans over stock wheels. 

Assuming $4 corn and a 12-row planter, all of these options paid for themselves within 250 acres. The Yetter Poly Twister and Schaffert Mohawk had the quickest payoff, yet Perkins says, “Regardless of the wheel tested and based on what we’ve seen, anything has to be better than the solid rubber factory wheels.”

Since 1964, Beck’s Practical Farm Research program has evaluated products, practices, and systems to boost farmers’ bottom lines. There are several new PFR Proven practices for 2020. These are simply products or practices that generated a positive return on investment every year for three consecutive years. The company’s on-farm research includes 100 products and 100 studies, spread over 800 acres on 10 sites in five states. Following are additional strategies to help you boost corn yields.

Bump up planting date. Across 17 years and in several states of research, early planting for both corn and soybeans pays off, Perkins says. For corn, “the month of April is the sweet spot,” the agronomist explains. Planting early allows for more sunlight capture and for more carbohydrates to be produced and stored for use during grain fill. Corn is less responsive to early planting than soybeans, so, in some situations, planting soybeans first may be the best plan. 

• Put starter on both sides of the row. Applying 30 pounds of N 2 inches from either side of the row and 2 inches deep – called 2×2×2 – bumps yield nearly 5 bushels per acre compared with putting fertilizer on one side only (220.3 bushels per acre vs. 215.6 bushels per acre). They tested two fertilizer products: a 50/50 blend of 28% and 10-34-0, and straight N. The yield bump appears to have come from the N instead of the P. 

Beck’s has two PFR Proven 2×2×2 products: Yetter’s Dual 2968 Series and Martin-Till’s Dual UMO. Both boost yield 7 bushels per acre. It takes the Yetter 214 acres to pay off (assuming a 12-row planter and $4-per-bushel corn). The Martin would take 402 acres to pay off.

Apply fungicide at VT. There are three PFR Proven fungicides for corn: Trivapro, Delaro 325 SC, and Headline AMP. When applied at VT, these products delivered an additional 10.6, 8.2, and 9.4 bushels per acre, respectively, over three years of multilocation testing. The VT application timing is key to protect the plants from late-season foliar diseases and to provide plant health benefits to carry the crop to harvest. 

• Split-apply N. Corn takes up most of its N between the V8 and VT stages. Thus, split-applying N is recommended compared to putting all the N on at planting. A combination of N preplant or with the planter, plus sidedressing at V3 is an optimal way to adhere to the 4R nutrient management strategy (right fertilizer source, right rate, right time, and right place), according to Bolte and Perkins. Putting all the N on up front leads to volatilization and loss, especially during a wet spring like 2019. How much total N to put on depends on whether the crop rotation is corn-after-corn or corn-after-soybeans. If the former, a range of 220 to 230 pounds of total N per acre is recommended; whereas, 190 to 200 pounds of total N is recommended for the latter scenario. That’s based on nine years of data in multiple locations.

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