Corn not impossible, just difficult

Uniform spacing essential | Sunshine must penetrate three-quarters of an inch through soil to reach germinating plants

PORTAGE la PRAIRIE, Man. — Indications are that a lot of prairie farmers are going to plant corn for the first time this year.

That’s why DuPont Pioneer organized planter clinics on the Prairies in March, said Sandy Endicott, agronomy manager for Pioneer Canada.

Endicott told more than 500 producers attending the three clinics that it’s possible for a novice to grow a successful corn crop first time out of the gate, but producers must be mindful of simple factors, such as the fact that sunshine has to penetrate through three-quarters of an inch of packed soil to reach the young plant before it can emerge.

“There’s no room for short cuts if you want to grow corn,” Endicott said.

Variety selection is always the first step.

The Canadian Seed Trade Association lists 770 corn hybrids, each with specific traits to match localized soil and environmental conditions.

“If you’re a novice grower, or even an experienced grower, talk to your seed rep about the best variety for your farm,” Endicott said.

“With so many hybrids available, you need a seed rep’s knowledge. Remember that every seed you put into the ground should produce an ear. Yield is directly proportional to ear count. This isn’t like wheat or small grains or oilseed crops, where we plant more seed than we need. With corn, every kernel is important.”

Endicott said seed treatments are critical, especially when planting into the cooler, moister soil of Western Canada.

She said Pioneer seed treatments contain four fungicides to protect against a wide range of seed borne pathogens. They also contain insecticides and other products.

“If a corn seed takes 10 or 20 days to emerge into sunlight, it needs all the protection it can get.”

A common problem with seed treatments on corn is that they flake off going through the planter and tend to plug the holes in the metering disc. This loses seed treatment and interferes with seed spacing.

“At Pioneer, we spend a lot of time researching our polymers and the whole seed application component in order to minimize the amount of dust-off,” she said.

“If you’re still seeing dust-off in an air feed system, we’ve found that it’s usually an air pressure problem. Too much air bounces the seed around and damages the coating. If you have issues like that, get in touch with us and we’ll see what else we can do.”

Corn plants must be perfectly uniform in their spacing for optimal yield. Endicott said a side view of the row that looks like a picket fence is the ideal picture.

Seed depth is another critical factor. Endicott said corn seeds must be at least 1.5 inches deep. There is no room for compromise.

The mesocotyl begins growing from the seed up toward the surface once the radicle root breaks out of the seed and determines up from down.

The mesocotyl is the white tubular extension that comes out the top of the seed and connects it to the crown of the plant. It grows during emergence and pushes the coleoptiles toward the soil surface. However, it cannot do this unless stimulated by sunlight that somehow gets through the soil.

“As the mesocotyl moves up through the soil, infrared sunlight penetrates three-quarters of an inch into the soil, and the plant is encouraged to go ahead and start growing.”

Sunlight penetrating three-quarters of an inch into the soil is a phenomenon many people find hard to comprehend.

However, the process of growing a corn plant halts if the mesocotyl doesn’t receive solar stimulation while it’s buried that far below the surface.

Once the mesocotyl does get the necessary solar stimulation, the plant produces leaves and nodal roots and is on its way.

The mesocotyl continues to serve as the conduit for all water and nutrients coming from the seed and seminal root system to the growing plant.

“If the seed is planted shallower than 1.5 inch and the surface is dry, those nodal roots won’t form.”

Endicott said farmers who want to try corn for the first time but aren’t ready to invest in a corn planter sometimes wonder if they can get a decent crop using their air drills.

“Well maybe,” she said.

“You might get a decent crop of 100 to 120 bushels per acre, but that question really draws attention to the two most critical factors we’ve been talking about.… You need very good depth control, and you need good inter-plant spacing down the row. If you think your air drill can do that, then give it a try. But if you want top yields, you need perfect singulation, perfect spacing and perfect depth control. You can only get that with a corn planter.”

For more information, contact a Pioneer rep or Endicott at

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