By Clint Thompson
If farmers want to achieve high corn yields this growing season, they’ll need to consider five factors, according to Ron Heiniger, professor and Extension specialist in corn at North Carolina State University.
He highlighted the importance of light, water, nutrients, genetics and temperature during a presentation at the University of Georgia (UGA) Corn Short Course meeting held on Jan. 21 at the UGA Tifton Campus Conference Center.
Average corn yields dropped in the United States from 176.4 bushels per acre to 168 in 2019, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Heiniger emphasized that while the five factors are all key in improving corn production this year, it’s important to consider the interactions that the different components have with each other.
“For instance, the more light we capture, the more likely we’re going to get leaf temperatures that are at the maximum, and we have to moderate those with water,” Heiniger said. “Finding a way to manage those five factors is critical, but also understanding how they interact with each other is important. We just can’t get 600-bushel yields by putting 60,000 plants out there; it just doesn’t work. They are too hot and don’t have enough water, so they don’t yield very well.”
While Heiniger highlighted different components that could lead to increased corn production, one factor that he stressed could potentially do more damage than good is irrigation. Rainfall is essential for the plant to produce ears of corn. If the corn doesn’t receive the right amount of water at the right time, the amount and size of the kernels could be impacted. However, Heiniger stressed that if producers apply too much water, it could negatively impact the plant.
“The issue there is you’re trying to get as much water through the plant as possible. Our natural inclination is let’s just push more water … irrigate, irrigate, irrigate. The problem is, as that soil becomes saturated, as those pore spaces are filled with water without any air, the root can’t function,” Heiniger said. “It can’t take up water nor can it take up nutrients, so in essence as we start saturating those soils, it’s like the corn is back in a drought again. Too much water is just like a drought.”
A drought hurt corn production last year, especially in Georgia, where there was a three-week dry spell in May 2019. Georgia had about 70,000 acres of dryland corn that were impacted last year.
“It’s a challenge to get enough water through that plant and still keep enough air in that soil so that roots can function efficiently,” Heiniger added.