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Pushing yields higher

By Staff | Aug 30, 2013

MORE THAN 100 area producers attended the 12-inch row field day on Aug. 21 at FC Cooperative in Farnhamville. The center of attention was Harry Stine, founder and president of Stine Seed Co., discussing increasing corn plant populations to as high as 52,000 or more per acre in 12-inch rows. He said his company is trying to push the yield envelope to high populations in even narower rows.

FARNHAMVILLE – Corn rows planted 12 inches apart.

Corn plants 10 inches from each other.

Plant populations of 52,000 per acre.

It’s all part of what Stine Seed Co. called “the next big thing.”

More than 100 farmers flowed into the row crop plots at FC Cooperative in Farnhamville on Aug. 21 to look at at Stine’s 12-inch corn plot and listen to Harry Stine, founder and president of the company that bears his family’s name, about pushing the yield envelope.

“This isn’t about narrow rows. It’s about high plant populations.” —Harry Stine Founder, president Stine Seed Co.

“This isn’t about narrow rows,” Harry Stine told Farm News. “It’s about high plant populations.”

Stine told Farnhamville listeners that his company is committed to reaching the 300-bushels-per-acre corn yield.

“And the only way to do that is to increase plant populations,” he said.

The resulting practice of 12-inch rows is a natural product of that research of planting an ever-increasing number of seeds in a single acre.

Stine acknowledged that the pursuit of higher yields means more field management including:

  • More nitrogen. Each plant with insect traits will take about a pound of nitrogen from the soil. Each bushel carries off .75 pounds of nitrogen. So to reach the 300 bpa level, larger amounts of nitrogen are required, Stine said, with better technology for applying and keeping the fertilizer from leaching away. Additional potassium and phosphorus will be required
  • Fungicide use. These are necessary, Stine said, because of plant density hindering air flow through the field. He said more sun is caught by the leaves, leaving the interior of the field relatively cool, however, it traps humidity which is breeding ground for disease spores.
  • Flotation tires. Planting in narrower rows means tires will be rolling over rows. Flotation tires distribute weight evenly over the surface reducing soil compaction.
  • The right hybrid. Stine said his company is developing hybrids that adapt well to high plant populations. He pointed to a 12-inch test plot with Stine hybrid, next to a competitor’s hybrid and the competitor was showing signs of firing with leaves dying under the canopy. The Stine plants were still green underneath.

Todd Claussen, FC Co-op’s director of agronomy

According to Dave Lemke, key account lead for FC Co-op, the Farnhamville 12-inch test plots were planted between May 15 and May 17.

From March 1 to planting, the area measured 15.9 inches of rain. But in the past 60 days just seven-tenths, with four-tenths falling on June 24.

Lemke said the cool summer has left the area short of growing degree units. As of Aug. 21, there had been 2,010 GDUs, about 105 below normal.

Lemke said the cooler temperature have allowed corn plants “to hang in there longer” with the lack of rain, but added, “they’re getting in trouble.”

The field day included several stops that discussed the latest management tools available for insect and resistant weed control, micronutrients and precision planting.

BRANDON VAN KENNEBROECK, an FC planting precision specialist, is dwarfed by a 48-row planter as he explains that technology has made each planter independent from what its neighbors are doing. “Each planter is a single-row planter,” he said. Each row has sensors that will apply different downforce in getting seeds to the correct depth.

Todd Claussen, FC Co-op’s director of agronomy, said the day was designed to show the cooperative’s customers that his agronomy team as the technology in working toward “keeping plants alive longer.”

An evolution

Stine said that in 1932, the U.S. hand picked 1.7 million acres of corn, at 7,000 plants per acre, for a national average yield of 26.4 bpa.

Between then and now, he said, each plant still produces one-third of a pound of grain. That’s never changed.

He said as genetics exist, most hybrids are maxed out at 37,000 plants per acre in 30-inch rows.

“So if we’re going to double yields again,” Stine said, “the genetics must mesh with the population you’re shooting for.”

He said with the right genetics, the right equipment, soil inputs and fungicides, “Iit’s very easy to double yields.”

In addition, he said earlier planting dates are favored, plus hybrids with shorter stalks. The less biomass the more moisture is available to add test weight.

“Going from 30-inch rows to 12-inch gains very little in bpa,” Stine said. “It’s critical to use genetics designed for higher populations.”

When asked about new planters, sprayers and combines corn heads for narrower rows, Stine said not to do anything different right now.

“But when your equipment needs to be replaced,” he said, “switch to 12-inch rows.”

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