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A New Way To Think About Corn Yield

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What really makes yield per acre? It’s not plant population — that’s merely one component, as we were reminded of in 2021.

“It’s actually the number of ears, and how much corn each ear produces. Ultimately, it is about bushels per ear,” says Farm Journal Field Agronomist Ken Ferrie.

Ferrie’s studies show a hybrid’s yield can vary by 6 bu. to 12 bu. per acre per thousand ears, depending on how it is managed.

“Just as you can maximize miles per gallon by how you drive and maintain a vehicle, you can maximize a hybrid’s efficiency — bushels per ear — by the way you manage it,” Ferrie says.

The Bushels Per Ear series can help you review how the 2021 season unfolded and make plans for 2022:

Why a good stand matters. A uniform stand lays the groundwork for ear count, which is the objective. Ferrie says it’s key to understand the drop from planted population to actual ear count and the role of seed quality and know how to check seed quality before you plant.  

Tricks and tips to achieve a perfect ear count. An excellent seedbed is critical for ear count, regardless of farming system. Focus on what makes a good seedbed — a level surface, the effect of crop rotation, temperature, residue management, seed size, seed orientation and planter setup.

What does a good stand look like? “The standard in the industry is a 13% drop from planted population to ear count,” Ferrie says. “But your goal should be only a 6% drop.” It’s important to evaluate stands, he adds, and keep good records (including photos), not just after emergence but all the way through preharvest scouting, so you can compare performance of each field and hybrid to prior years.

How to evaluate the quality of a stand. What caused a good stand or a poor one? Consider planting depth, sidewall compaction, downforce on the planter, insect pressure, disease, weed metering, seed size, orientation, surface crusting, etc. Was the effect man made or natural?

On-the-go seedbed improvements. Mother Nature has a say in seedbed condition. Look for problems and adjust as you plant, which includes when you move between farms, fields and soils, Ferrie says.

Saving a stand in trouble. Despite your best efforts, it’s still possible for a stand to encounter problems. Ferrie is quick to tout the importance of scouting early, so you can quickly react, and knowing how and when to respond to various issues.

End of season stand evaluation. Remember, your production plan starts at harvest, with residue spreading, fall tillage, fixing ruts and compaction, etc. You tie everything together to produce more bushels per ear next season.

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