Planting corn in rows spaced 15" apart rather than the traditional 30" increases yields and has other benefits as well, according to scientists at USDA's Agricultural Research Service (ARS).

ARS soil scientists Ardell Halvorson and Curtis Reule of the Soil-Plant-Nutrient Laboratory in Fort Collins, CO, have found a 20% yield increase in the first year of a study using the narrower spacing. The researchers don't know exactly why the yield increased, but the corn may be using sunlight, water and nutrients more efficiently in the closer rows, Halvorson says.

In addition to higher yields, farmers who plant corn in narrow rows should have fewer weeds because increased shading from plants and competition for water, sunlight and nutrients makes it tougher for weeds to survive.

Halvorson and Reule are repeating their study this year, but the initial results are consistent with earlier research on narrow spacing of crops.