Tight rows squeeze out huge corn yield

The cornucopia of a 284-bushel corn crop is something we might see in Iowa, but to find a yield this big in Manitoba would come as a surprise for most producers.

Yet 284 bu. per acre with 52-pound bushel weight was the winner in the 2018 Manitoba Corn Growers annual yield competition.

Planting Pioneer HiBred P8387AM, Blumengart Colony Farms south of Winkler beat the runner-up by 13 bushels. The second place entry grew the same variety.

Blumengart corn boss Mark Tschetter said the key was the unique 10-inch row spacing with a population of 45,000 seeds per acre.

In a phone interview, Tschetter said he got the idea while visiting Stine Seeds in Iowa. Some producers there have reported a five-year average yield bump of 20 bu. when growing high populations on 10-inch spacings. That prompted Tschetter to try the same thing on 60 acres in 2018.

“We normally put in a population of 28,000 to 36,000 seeds per acre. Mostly 36,000. We didn’t put in any extra fertility for the extra 9,000 seeds on that 60-acre field. We used our regular planter and used the GPS to move it over twice to put in the extra rows to make 10-inch spacing,” said Tschetter, adding that for 2019 he hopes to try the special varieties Stine has developed specifically for tight row spacing.

The field with tight spacing gave the colony a 24-bu. boost over their conventional fields. The tight spacing field was adjacent to their conventional 30-inch rows at 36,000 plants. The conventional field yielded 260 bu. per acre. The same variety was planted in both fields. Tschetter said rainfall was below normal at the colony in 2018.

He said the benefit is derived from giving each plant nearly one square foot in which to grow.

Tight row spacing means there’s an 11-inch gap between each corn stalk within each row. So each plant has its own private 10-inch by 11-inch field with no competition from neighbours.

An additional benefit comes from the seed spacing between rows. Instead of having two seeds straight across the 10-inch aisle from each other, they are alternately spaced so there’s a vacant spot across the aisle.

Tschetter said that with 36,000 plants per acre on 30-inch row spacing, there’s only a three to four inch gap between each plant and there’s fierce competition for sunlight, moisture and nutrients. Sunlight cannot reach the side leaves.

“For his special 10-inch corn varieties, Stine is breeding to get maximum photosynthesis for each plant. The plants are a little bit shorter with more upright leaves. And they’re bred to have space around them.

“We’re trying to get some of this special corn seed across the border for this year’s trials. And then we’re going to play with different fertility rates to feed those extra plants. We’ll try 20 lb. higher and 40 lb. higher to see how much we can coax the yield and see what makes economic sense. We’ll do 500 acres of 10-inch corn in 2019.

“For this year, I got myself a custom-built 10-inch planter from John Deere. It’s 60 feet so it’s 72 rows on 10 inch. We do a lot of row crops, so we figured why buy another planter that can only do 30-inch rows. Why not buy something for wheat, canola, edible beans, soybeans and everything else we grow. We already have an 80-foot planter and an air seeder, so this fits well.”

Blumengart Colony took delivery of this custom built John Deere corn planter March 7. The special Max Emerge is designed for 10-inch row spacing. The colony expects to plant 500 acres of corn on narrow spacing in 2019, with populations in the range of 45,000 seeds per acre. Manitoba corn growers will be watching to see if the colony can top 300 bushels per acre. | Mark Tschetter photo

Manitoba Corn Growers field agronomist Morgan Cott said the association always gets high numbers in the competition, which are not necessarily representative of dryland corn yields across the province.

“You always get spikes, just like any other crop, due to isolated areas with more heat or more rain,” said Morgan.

“There’s really no cheating as such, because if you’re trying something different or something special and it works well, then that’s all fair. Anything goes if it’s in the interest of promoting better agronomy. Things like special row spacing for example or different varieties.

“A lot of times, a producer won’t decide what to enter in the competition until the combine tells them they’ve hit a sweet spot. Everybody has their favourite spots in a field, spots where they just about always get a yield bump. High spots in a wet year. Low spots in a dry year.”

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