Blogging by the Bushel
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By~ Brian Mitchem
I have had more conversations with Farmers this winter about attaining higher yield levels in both corn and beans than in recent years. We are seeing trend line improvement in crop yields with better genetics especially in soybeans of late. We have several key research studies that show we need to manage modern corn and bean genetics different than we currently are in order to attain higher yields.

300 bpa corn and 100 bpa soybeans are realistic stretch goals for individual fields. Many entries in yield contests are achieving these levels and higher across the nation. One common thread among those contest winners is an extreme attention to detail.

Some thoughts and considerations for maximizing yield potential.

Early planting with good soil conditions allows both corn and beans to extend the reproductive growth period. In a recent study beans planted in mid March had surprisingly good stand establishment and extended the R2 (full flower) growth stage by 11 days and resulted in a 10% yield bump over the same beans planted late April. I currently have a study in place and dropped the first planting in the ground March 26.

Maximizing days in reproduction directly leads to yield increase.

Plant populations – lots of debate but our data clearly shows that we should widen the plant population prescription across farms more than we do. Beans should vary 100,000 plants from 100 to 200,000 and corn at least 8000 from 28-36000 for most. Some will push corn populations even higher.

Check seed quality for early planting – seed is tagged with a warm germ score. Cold germ can vary significantly by product lot. I always encourage farmers to send a small sample to an independent seed lab for cold germ scores. I have used Midwest Labs for this service. A poor cold germ score does not mean the seed should not be planted but should be planted under warmer conditions.

Understand plant nutritional needs – we are experimenting with several area farms applying sulfur in front of soybeans based off key learnings about the increased need for the nutrient. Sulfur and calcium are the elements that cascade nodulation in beans. Increasing the nitrogen production system is key plus modern beans have been shown to need more sulfur for protein production. Consider 100# ams plus 25# potassium for ease of spreading as a trial.

Micronutrients such as boron, manganese and zinc are commonly limiting in our soils. These can be added in a foliar pass and in some cases added to a uniform rate of dry fertilizer.

In corn recent research released shows yield response to foliar nutrition targeting the ear leaf. The ear leaf feeds the ear more aggressively than other leaves on the plant and is our best diagnostic tool to use as a tissue sample. In our area most hybrids place the ear at nodes 12-14. Consider an application of key nutrients such as boron, manganese, zinc and possibly copper (surprising response in some research studies) along with a fungicide at the v 12 growth stage.

Several modern corn hybrids are showing much larger kernel size. While we are not adding kernel rows or ear length the individual kernels are much larger. In some cases we have measured near 300 bpa corn with 60,000 kernels per bushel as opposed to the old math of 90,000 per bushel. In order to achieve that performance level later season nutrition must be addressed along with later season plant health.

A study released this winter from Iowa State University showed similar leaf disease control of grey leaf spot plus equal or better yields from fungicides at v12 rather than applications made at tassel.

In both crops doing a nutrient test from leaf tissue can be valuable to determining the specific plant needs. Sampling at v5 and v 10 in corn and v3 and r2 in beans gives us a good sample pool and still allows time to impact the plants.

Please consult with your local Mercer Agronomy staff member to discuss your individual needs further.

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