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Steve Ford says he owes it to himself to take a closer look at high-population narrow-row corn based on limited experience with the practice his farm in 2013.
“I am not a big risk-taker, but if you could return an extra $150 to $200/acre, you have to look at it,” he says. “At $4 corn, if it is worth 50 bushels/acre, it would be about a five-year payback on specialized equipment.”
He plans to keep the cost of continuing to test high-population narrow-row corn to a minimum. He will double plant with his 30-inch planter and harvest with a soybean platform in 2014.
“I am not convinced this is the future at this point,” he says. “I have to test it on my farm, in my conditions, and my methods.”
Corn planted in 12-inch rows on the left and 20-inch rows on the right highlights how in-row spacing differences could help boost yields in high-population production systems.
It remains to be seen whether high plant populations and narrow rows are the wave of the future. But many seed companies are testing the concept, although not as publically as Stine Seed, says Mark Licht, Iowa State University field agronomist.
“I would say that most seed companies are looking at pushing their hybrids to see whether they can get better performance at higher seeding rates,” he says.
“Ultimately, this could be a paradigm shift,” he says. “This is going to get us thinking about our corn systems in a new way. All of a sudden, its not just how did this hybrid perform at narrower row spacing. It’s how is it going to perform at ultra high populations.”
Discussing the link between plant population and yield is nothing new, but the big jump in plant populations being tried by Stine Seed is, says Licht.
“For years we have said that the way to increase yields is to put more plants out there,” he adds. “Part of the thinking is based on yield physiology. We are breeding for one ear per plant. Yes, we can get a bit more yield by adding a few more kernels per ear. But in order to get significantly more yield, we have to get more plants out there.”
But that theory often hasn’t been borne out in higher yields in field trials of sub-30-inch corn planted with traditional hybrids at plant populations slightly higher than normal, notes Licht.
However, he contends that researchers have fallen prey to planting hybrids selected for 30-inch rows and 35,000 seeding rates. “One of the major flaws of my own work is that when we have changed row spacing, we have done it with a common hybrid,” says Licht. “I have quit doing these trials because of the difficulty of identifying a hybrid that was developed for that scenario. If we really want to look at ultra high populations, we really have to look at hybrids that were selected for that environment.”