In the old Mission Impossible television series, things weren’t always as they seemed. The same is often true about producing 500-bushel corn in North Carolina.
At this year’s Blackland Farm Managers Tour in Belhaven, N.C. Aug. 5, North Carolina State University Extension corn specialist Ron Heiniger, and Dewey Lee, University of Georgia Extension corn specialist, said producing 500-bushel corn is not mission impossible in the Tar Heel State, but farmers will have to challenge the status quo and think differently when it comes to shooting for big corn yields.
Both specialists cited Georgia farmer Randy Dowdy who clocked 503 per bushels per acre last year and won the National Corn Growers Association National Corn Yield Contest.
Lee and Heiniger both agree that Dowdy succeeded at mission impossible because he challenges the status quo, thinks differently and most importantly takes care of his corn every day from planting to harvest. Lee has worked closely with Dowdy ever since the first-generation farmer started growing corn in 2008.
Both specialists say 500 bushels per acre can be reached in North Carolina, but irrigation is a must.
In essence, achieving 500 bushels per acre is mission impossible in North Carolina due to three factors, Heiniger said: Difficulty with uniform emergence and early growth; limitations on capturing enough light; and problems with lengthening the grain fill period.
Heiniger’s research shows that late emergence harms yields. He said farmers need to aim for getting all plants up in that first 24 hours. Plants that emerge one to two days later pull down overall yields, he said.
Farmers can achieve 90 percent plus uniform emergence when temperatures are warm and soil temperatures are ideal, but Heiniger noted that farmers can’t wait for the perfect day to plant. That’s why it is critical for farmers to pick the right hybrid that has a high cold emergence rating if they plan to start planting the first week of April.
Also, Heiniger encourages farmers to plant deeper at 2.5 inches rather than 1.5 inches to achieve uniform emergence if they plant early because there is better moisture content at that depth. In addition, a farmer can often forego a seed treatment if he plants at 2.5 inches, Heiniger said.
“When you have the right hybrid planted at the right depth, the seed treatments don’t make much difference. If you plant the wrong hybrid at a shallower depth, the seed treatments start to improve your emergence on that first day quite a bit,” he said.
Remember the Golden Rule of corn farming
Heiniger urges farmers to remember the Golden Rule of corn farming: “Maximum yields are achieved when we capture light for the maximum amount of time with the least amount of stress,” he said.
In addition, high plant populations are a must for hitting 500 bushels per acre. “We need 49,000 plants per acre to get that job done,” he said.
If a farmer irrigates, Heiniger said selecting tall hybrids that capture the maximum amount of light is needed for achieving 500 bushels per acre. And by all means, 500 bushels per acre cannot be achieved without irrigation in North Carolina.
“If you want 500 bushel yields you have to have water, water, water available available available,” Heiniger said.
In his comments at the field day, Lee stressed the importance of becoming a student of the corn crop. “You have to understand he growth and development of the crop to achieve top yields. If you don’t understand the physiology of this plant, it’s hard to move the yield needle,” Lee said.
To reach 500 bushels farmers certainly need irrigation and must take steps to avoid stress to the crop. “Apply water because this crop uses a specific amount of water every day. Stress affects ear size and ear numbers,” Lee said.
Through it all, farmers must work to increase leaf area index while developing a good root system for good plant development. “We have to increase leaf area index. When we increase leaf area index, we increase photosynthesis. When we increase photosynthesis, we increase biomass and yield. As we increase biomass, we give that plant a chance to increase grain yield,” he said.
If a corn plant has a good root system and good plant development, the carbohydrates and energy can be focused on developing larger corn ears. “If you have water going into that plant all the way to black layer, it is going to have good test weight with plenty of rows, plenty of kernels and plenty of ears,” Lee said
Lee noted that the number of kernels that develop on a corn plant is determined by light received from the two to three week period to the silking phase. “If it’s cloudy and it’s rainy, it can hammer us because light and water are equal in their effects during that flowering stage. We can lose up to 40 percent of our yield when it’s rainy during that flowering time,” Lee said.
“Producing 500-bushel corn is not mission impossible,” Lee said. “It’s a pathway; it’s a journey. We have great hybrids that can give us these types of yields, and we have new formulations of new products. Put them all together, and they do have a synergistic effect, and they will give us yield,” he said.