Let the plants do it; managing for high corn yields

Mar 28, 2014
by WLJ

Mounting issues among foreign buyers of U.S. corn have forced large U.S. buyers to take a closer look at GMO corn, and may force growers to look for new ways to grow the crop to remain competitive in the global marketplace.

Before planting any grain crop later this spring, U.S. growers should understand the impact of global politics on the price of corn, thus of the economic risks involved in planting corn this year.

Many U.S. growers have begun to look not only at new and old non-GMO corn varieties, but also at new ways to grow a conventional crop of corn.

Four corn growers topped 400 bushels per acre in the 2013 National Corn Growers Association Yield contest this year, lending some evidence that yields much higher than the current 160 bushels per acre is possible.

Let the plants do it

The general consensus among these high yielding corn growers is, “Let the plant do it.” High yielding corn growers know the importance of understanding what a crop needs to reach its maximum genetic yield potential. Here are some recommendations:

• Start with a thorough analysis of the soil to determine the potential of a crop reaching its full genetic yield. • Put a seed coating on the corn seed that gives it maximum opportunity to develop a healthy, vertical root system. Seed treatments containing nitrogen, potassium, cobalt and naturally occurring auxin phyto-stimulants can be applied as a seed treatment and/or after seeds emerge to ensure development of a strong root system.

• Plant a variety with true genetic yield potential in the 600 bushel per acre range and be sure the corn variety has a multi-year proven yield potential in the soil type/conditions and with the most likely weather patterns.

For example, if corn is planted into a drought situation, plant cells continue to function normally even though the soil continues to dry out. The major effect of soil water is to control the temperature of the plant. Hot temperatures in the plant cells decrease the plant’s ability for normal photosynthesis.

If the availability of irrigation or natural rainfall continues to exist, it becomes critical to split the hydrogen ion off the water molecule. This releases energy from the water. This is why water is necessary. It provides the hydrogen ion (energy) to drive the metabolic process to convert sugar into energy.

A mixture of Cobalt and Nickel can be used to split water molecules, most importantly separating hydrogen molecules from water.

Several products are available to do this, including a new product, Quench from a new company, Plant Power Products.

Once corn is up and growing, it takes huge amounts of energy for the plant to move from vegetative to reproductive growth stages.

Knowing when and how to supply needed energy is the key to producing ultra-high yielding crops.

Paying close attention to what a corn crop needs is important all the time, but the most critical time period is the 25-30 day period when the crop moves from vegetative to reproductive stages.

During this period, roughly from two weeks prior to tasseling until the plant reaches the R2 growth stage, a corn plant uses about 70 percent of the total energy used from planting to harvest.

Once the number of rows and number of kernels is set, the yield potential is in large part locked in. From that point on, the grower has to understand how to keep energy flowing into the ear, rather than back to the mother plant.

Why is a new way of growing corn critical?

High crop inputs and varying crop prices add one thing that any grower wants to avoid: risk. With corn in 2014, the risk will go well beyond the individual grower and its tentacles will extend into both social and political arenas. Some will contend “how” we grow corn will become as important as “how much” corn we produce.

The best way to overcome risk is to out-produce it, which covers the grower from both the short and long supply of corn. As of early March, Russia, a net importer of corn, and Ukraine, a net exporter of corn, are on a path to in large part take two corn players off the board.

Heat and drought in South America threaten to take away 10-12 million bushels of corn from Brazil and Argentina, both net exporters of corn.

In 2013, it is estimated that about half (170 million acres) of the U.S. food crop acres were planted with GMO seed. While interest in non-GMO grain crops has been on the increase lately, corn remains the leading user of GMO seed.

Monsanto, the industry pioneer in GMO products, is the usual whipping boy for non-GMO advocates, but the latest shot comes aimed directly at industry giant Syngenta.

The two largest U.S. grain exporters Bunge and Cargill say they will refuse to accept Syngenta’s latest crop of GMO corn, because they contend it will be rejected by China.

In fact, as of late February, nearly 700 million metric tons of U.S. corn has been embargoed by China because it tested positive for MIR 162, which is the GMO trait used in Agrisure and Viptera, and insecticide that China has not approved for import.

In January of 2014, the National Grain and Feed Association and North American Export Grain Association sent Syngenta a letter asking the company to immediately shut down commercialization of both Agrisure Viptera and the new Agrisure Duracade corn unless and until it gets an international seal of approval.

While other major international markets for U.S. corn will accept these other GMO traits, the loss of major markets in Europe and Asia considerably ramp up the risks for U.S. corn growers. Most growers are looking to non- GMO corn; not because of the risk of their crops being rejected by foreign buyers, but more so because of the escalating costs of producing GMO corn versus the cost of growing non-GMO corn.

Syngenta and other large global seed/trait companies have for the most part been able to keep global concerns over GMO seed under control. However, these most recent backlashes, combined with ongoing concerns among the global community, are creating chinks in the armor that threaten the long-term validity of GMO seed.

As Planet Earth pushes ever closer to the 9 billion world population mark, under current growth rates, for the first time in the history of mankind farmers will not be able to produce enough food to feed everyone. It’s not just population, but changing populations that will create these shortages.

China, for example, adds a middle class the size of the entire population of the United States every year.

The stakes are high. Corn and other feed grains will play a key role in how the world is shaped in the future. Finding a better way to grow corn is a first good step in changing the current trend that is leading the world into a food shortage in coming years. — Roy Roberson

[Roy Roberson has published hundreds of stories in farm magazines during his 35-year career in agriculture journalism. He writes about a number of agriculture topics from his home office in Auburn, Alabama.]