For dryland grower Alan Wineinger, short-season corn hybrids are providing yields comparable to full-season lines on limited rainfall.

For irrigator Kirk Heger, short-season corn provides a double-crop option after wheat, as well as a chance to harvest and market the grain in the summer when prices aren't yet pressured from harvesttime gluts.

Both growers farm in western Kansas, where production varies from yields of 200 bu./acre or higher for irrigated and 100-120 bu./acre for dryland. Some farmers fret over a dwindling, more expensive groundwater supply. Others cross their fingers for enough rainfall to make a crop.

“We can plant short-season corn after wheat harvest,” says Heger, who farms about 5,000 acres of corn with his brother Darin and brother-in-law Charles Leininger. “Most of our corn is 115-day or longer maturing. But we also plant 95-day corn after wheat or in mid-June if no wheat is planted. The 95-day corn is part of a split-circle (center pivot irrigation) program. We also plant the 95-day corn on the other half of the circle for harvest in late fall.”

The early planted short-season corn goes in the ground by April 15. The latter is planted in mid-June.

The majority of the irrigation water is applied to the April-planted corn through mid-July, at which time it should be into the dent growth stage. The majority of the irrigation circle is then applied to the later planted 95-day corn.

“This system can be a real advantage for us,” says Heger. “The early corn will be ready for harvest in mid-August. Since most of our corn is marketed to area feedyards, we can sometimes sell that corn at a better price due to shorter supplies at that time of the year. The later-planted corn allows us to spread out our harvest at a time when we are also trying to get cotton out of the field.”

Wineinger went with some 101-day and 103-day corn last year on his dryland acres, which normally receive less than 18 in. of precipitation a year. All his corn is in a no-till program and a summer-winter fallow where corn follows wheat or grain sorghum planted the following spring. The wheat residue helps collect rain and snow over the fall and winter, helping provide a stronger soil profile for the summer crops.

“We were pleased with the performance of the short-season corn,” says Wineinger. “It yielded 112 bu., which is a good yield for dryland in our part of the country. It out-yielded other full-season corn I had planted.”

The short corn hybrids were planted about May 1. Those hybrids took advantage of strong summer rainfall that was 6-8 in. above normal. The corn was ready for harvest in late August before traditional September dry winds.

“We plan on doubling our corn acres from 320 acres to about 700 acres in 2005 because of the strong soil profile built up last summer and fall and from the strong results we saw with the 103-day corn,” says Wineinger.

Even though Heger doesn't necessarily plant the short-season hybrids to save water, he can see about $20/acre savings in irrigation cost due to a shorter watering period.

“You can possibly save 3-4 in. of irrigation with the 95-day corn,” he says. “At $5-6/acre/in., that can add up to $20-plus per acre savings.”

Reasons for planting short-season corn are usually different for the Upper Midwest. Short-season corn can be beneficial for growers who have to replant following cold, damp weather.

“Growers may need to consider shorter-season corns, those in the 95- to 103-day range,” says Bob Nielson, Purdue University Extension corn specialist, noting that days to maturity can't be compared to calendar days when making the decision to switch hybrids.

“It's based simply on relative differences in grain moisture at harvest, not the actual number of calendar days it takes to mature the corn crop,” he says.

For example, Indiana producers who haven't planted in the northern third of the state, and in east-central Indiana by the end of May, should consider switching to earlier hybrids ranging from 105-108 days to maturity. However, the rest of the state's producers can still plant the seed they have due to a longer growing season.

Peter Thomison, agronomist at The Ohio State University, says that northern Ohio growers should consider planting 105-107-day corn hybrids at the end of May. In climates like that in central Ohio, hybrids that take 107-110 days to mature can be planted until the end of the month, while southern Ohio can safely plant hybrids that take 114 days or longer to mature.

Nielsen says corn planted the first week of June will pollinate in late July or early August rather than early July, when pollination normally occurs. “This is typically the warmer and drier part of the season, which may cause a higher risk for stress,” he says. “Corn also will be in a younger stage when leaf blight diseases, such as gray leaf spot, may hit, causing a greater risk of yield loss.”

Late-planted corn could also be more attractive to adult Japanese and Western corn rootworm beetles, as well as European corn borer and Southwestern corn borer moths also looking for corn to lay their eggs on in late summer, says Neilsen.

Heger says the advantages of what short-season corn can offer still depend on Mother Nature.

“You can double-crop after wheat, have corn to sell in a better market, save some water at the end of the season and spread out your harvest,” he says. “But when the crop needs water, it needs water. You either need to have the rainfall or apply irrigation during those peak water use periods to make it work.”