Field research in 2008 proved that intensive corn management systems can dramatically increase corn yields, by up to 21 percent, while also increasing harvested grain starch and subsequently ethanol output from that grain by as much as 42 percent. Even without ethanol plant premium payment for high-starch corn, the net dollars per acre income was increased by as much as 28 percent.
The study combined six products and production practices in various combinations to evaluate yield and economics of growing corn with higher starch. Funded by the H&M Porterfield Trust and Saskferco (recently bought by Yara), the project was conducted at Arise Research and Discovery's facility near Martinsville, Ill.
The most successful corn production systems approach included all the practices noted here:
- Use of Stabl-U (a new stabilized urea for efficient nitrogen rates)
- Twin row planting with higher plant populations and better spacing
- Planting of high fermentable corn (HFC) hybrids that produce more starch for ethanol
- Establishing fields under strip tillage
- Strip banding of the nitrogen fertilizer
- Use of TerraStar Wheels to imprint the soil with geometric ordered roughness (GOR).
"The innovative systems used in this study increased pounds of starch produced per pound of nitrogen applied by up to 70 percent. Net income per acre increased by up to $97 per acre, an increase of 28 percent," the final report notes. It was further noted that high-starch corn grown in volume could be a premium-priced corn for delivery to ethanol facilities.
"Compared to the control plots, total starch yield increased by up to 1,992 pounds per acre, which translates into an extra 151 gallons of ethanol per acre," the report points out.
The researchers wanted to see how successful they could be putting all six field practices together. The main goal was growing more corn with higher starch levels, explained Jim Porterfield, private watershed/water quality specialist who designed the study.
"What we had seen is that individually each of these things increased yield while improving the environment.
I've seen the TerraStar imprinter reduce the nitrate concentration in tile lines by 50 percent. I've seen Stabl-U reduce concentrations of nitrates in the soil and tile water by up to 65 percent. I wondered what would happen if we put the two together.
"Previous University of Illinois research indicates that a higher percentage of starch content in the grain will result if you plant more plants per acre. Additionally, if you over fertilize, you get more protein in the grain, but with optimum or less nitrogen you get more starch," Porterfield said.
"We decided to go with the twin rows to put more plants per acre in the field but with more area for root exploration because of the better spacing using twin rows compared to single rows. We strip banded the nitrogen to put it where the roots would be," Porterfield further noted.
The executive summary listed basic findings. "The following observations were made for this system study for the 2008 growing season at Martinsville, Ill.
- TerraStar imprinted plots yielded more than plots that were not imprinted.
- Stabl-U plots had equal or better yields than those where urea was used.
- For two out of three hybrids, strip-till banded Stabl-U yielded more than mulch till with broadcast nitrogen.
- Dollar returns per acre were better for 100 pounds per acre of nitrogen and 42,000 seed per acre plots than control plots (120 lbs./A urea, 35,000 seeds, single row) and high rate plots (200 lbs./A Stabl-U, 59,740 seeds, twin row).
- For each hybrid, the treatment that produced its highest starch content also produced its highest yield.
- Tillage, nitrogen type and placement had a large effect on yield of two out of the three hybrids.
One of the HFC hybrids yielded best under conventional field practices. "Its yield just went downhill as we intensified the management practices," Porterfield said. "It really depends on the hybrid what is ultimately going to happen when we intensify management, and we don't know that much about hybrids from that aspect.
"If a grower puts the wrong hybrid into his specific system of growing corn, then he won't get the results he expects," Porterfield suggested, and he sees the need for more seed company information about the best production practices for growing specific hybrids.
Stabl-U is a product patented by Bi-En Corp. Two fertilizer manufacturers have proven it can be produced, although it is not commercially available, yet.
Porterfield said the unique internal mode of action of Stabl-U is very different than urea with a coating or add-on. Stabl-U provides a fast acting, but long lasting, ammonic nitrogen and very active ionic calcium.
The TerraStar wheel imprinter (new to the market in 2009) is an add-on for behind planters or most tillage equipment. "The imprinter does three things," Porterfield said. "It provides more water for the crop. If you are going to put more plants out there, they are going to need more water. Number two, it cuts down on erosion dramatically because it collects normal rainfall. It keeps water in the imprints for soaking into the soil. Third, it provides micro-wells of biological activity that aren't normal over a flat soil surface (not all of that activity has been defined or completely understood)."
To view the full study report, click here.