How to Achieve Record Corn Yields: Start the Crop Right

Start corn off the right way ( Sonja Begemann )

For the past six years, Middletown, Maryland farmer Drew Haines has sought 400+ bu. corn yields. This year, he finally achieved his lofty goal.

“My mind was blown, I was shaking in my shoes when they came back with the weigh tickets and we figured out what it was,” Haines told U.S. Farm Report Host Tyne Morgan. “We babied the corn, spoon feeding it to get that test weight as heavy as we can.”

He hit 64 lb. test weight on his record field this year. Haines hit 422.35 bu. per acre on non-irrigated ground, winning the title of the highest non-irrigated yield in the 2019 corn yield contest.

In ‘babying’ the corn, you have to make sure the crop never had a bad day from start to finish. As you make 2020 planting decisions, plan for disease, insect and weed pests that could be lurking in your fields, looking to steal precious grain.

Every ear lost on 1/1,000 of an acre—if uniform across the field—represents five to seven bu. of lost yield.

Manage Disease

Wet weather, which is expected in many corn-growing states, increases the risk of many early-season pathogens. In most cases, disease pathogens overwinter in soils, so review notes from previous growing seasons to identify fields most susceptible to infection.

Here are a few diseases to watch for this year:

  • Pythium: ranges from seed rot or preemergence damping-off to early postemergence damping-off. Infected tissue becomes soft and brown as it rots. More likely in 50 to 55-degree, wet soils.
  • Phytophthora: can cause seed rot, preemergence damping off and early postemergence damping-off. Soft, brown tissue in impacted area, however, within several days it may dry out and shrivel up. Seedling blight makes established seedlings turn yellow, wilt and die. Most likely in heavy, wet soils, compacted or low areas, but can happen anywhere with excess rain.
  • Fusarium: more adaptable, can infect crops under a variety of temperature and moisture conditions. Plants stressed from weather extremes, including temperature and moisture, herbicide or physically damaged plants especially susceptible.

Mind Insects

One of the most damaging early insects you’ll need to look for in corn fields is black cutworm. It can be tricky to find if it’s burrowed beneath the surface of the soil, but its damage is unmistakable.

Black cutworm literally cuts the corn off at the base when it’s a seedling. It’ll look like someone went through the field with a pair of scissors. Corn is most susceptible when it’s 15” or shorter, but it can survive if the growing point isn’t damaged.

While you’re scouting for black cutworm, look for other early season pests such as wireworm, white grubs, seedcorn maggots and Japanese beetles. Wireworm can cause skips and wilting, white grubs cause stunting and plant death, seedcorn maggots can destroy the seed and prevent emergence altogether and Japanese beetle larvae are known to feed on roots.

Some seed treatments could help you defend the crop against these pests. In addition, there are many in-furrow or soil applied insecticides that can help—if you reach damage thresholds. Work with an agronomist you trust to determine if treatment is needed.

Control Weeds

Early season weeds can steal water, sunlight and nutrients from vulnerable corn. Because of increased weed seed banks across the country, pre-emergent herbicide decision might be the most important weed management decision you make. It helps get the crop off to the right start and sets the stage for how effective post-emergent applications can be.

Weeds are easier to kill before the crop is planted. Get a good pre-plant or pre-emergent herbicide down. Research your options and consider what your target weeds are. Use best management practices such as multiple modes of action and full rates to gain, and keep control, of early season weeds.

If you have a large number of winter annual weeds you might need to consider a burn-down application ahead of planting. Consider resistances such as glyphosate resistance in marestail, for example, when picking that herbicide combination.

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