South East Farm Press Logo

For North Carolina corn farmers seeking secrets to achieve maximum yields in 2024, Ron Heiniger is offers just this hint this year.

John Hart, Associate Editor

March 6, 2024

4 Min Read
young corn plants
Ritthichai/iStock/Getty Images Plus

For North Carolina corn farmers seeking secrets to achieve maximum yields in 2024, Ron Heiniger is offering just one hint this year: choose the right hybrid and plant it on the right day. 

“We have seen this gain in genetics that allows us to at least have some hope of making respectable and profitable yields. The challenge for you is to use those genetics correctly, to put them in the right place at the right time,” Heiniger, North Carolina State University Extension corn specialist said at an Extension meeting at the Bertie County Extension Center in Windsor Feb. 19.  

Heiniger said the key is choosing the right hybrid with the right maturity date, whether early, medium, or late, so that hybrid will have the water it needs at silking time. He said you need to target your hybrids to how sandy or loamy your soil is and how much water your corn may receive during the season.  

“You know when your rainfall patterns tend to be, so you can make some choices on when ‘should I plant these hybrids to get the best result. If I got irrigation, and I could supply water to these hybrids, they’re capable of tremendous yields,’” Heiniger said. 


Heiniger said the most important job is to make sure you get your hybrids off to a good start by choosing good days to plant your corn, use starter fertilizer, and apply micronutrients.. 

“What you are trying to achieve is a positive feedback loop, and what that means when that little seed germinates, and that root comes out of that seed, the first thing it finds is nutrients, nitrogen, phosphorus, a little boron, maybe some zinc, magnesium. It finds nutrients. It takes those nutrients in. Cell division occurs. Those roots grow rapidly, to find more nutrients; the plant takes that up and grows even more rapidly,” Heiniger said. 

Heiniger said the biggest tool in your toolbox is to make sure you have plenty of nitrogen in your corn crop at planting time. He recommends applying one-third of your nitrogen at planting time. If you’re applying 150 units of nitrogen per acre, Heiniger recommends applying 50 units at planting. 

“Why do I put so much nitrogen at planting time? Nitrogen comes through the root by diffusion, not by ion exchange. Diffusion occurs when you get more on the outside than you have on the inside, and that draws what’s outside into the plant. If you don’t have enough concentrated nitrates in that soil, that plant has a hard time pulling it through the root system. I want to make sure I have plenty of nitrates concentrated in that early root zone,” he said. 

Remember that micronutrients are vital for a successful corn crop. 

For example, Heiniger noted that the phosphorous index in many North Carolina corn fields is very high due to the use of broiler or hog litter in many fertility programs. The problem is a corn plant can’t utilize phosphorus unless the root is supplied with some zinc. 

For the corn plant to utilize phosphorus, 30 units of phosphorus must be matched with one unit of zinc. If your soil holds lots of phosphorus, Heiniger said there must be enough zinc applied to meet that 30 to 1 ratio. 

In addition, Heiniger noted there is plenty of magnesium in most North Carolina soils, the challenge is most of this magnesium is below the root zone and a corn plant must grow into that magnesium. He said applying some magnesium at planting makes a big difference in some of these soils. 

Another key micronutrient for corn is boron. 

“Boron is critical to root tip development. It stimulates cell division at the root tip. Our soils tend to be marginal or low on boron. Boron is soluble; it moves in the soil,” Heiniger said. 

Finally, Heiniger encourages North Carolina farmers to visit the Corn Climate dashboard to determine their best corn planting dates. The dashboard provides climate-based information on seasonal corn development. It utilizes multiple climate and weather datasets to calculate daily heat units (growing degree days) and aggregates them over the season to predict when different developmental stages will occur.  

About the Author(s)

John Hart

Associate Editor, Southeast Farm Press

John Hart is associate editor of Southeast Farm Press, responsible for coverage in the Carolinas and Virginia. He is based in Raleigh, N.C.

Prior to joining Southeast Farm Press, John was director of news services for the American Farm Bureau Federation in Washington, D.C. He also has experience as an energy journalist. For nine years, John was the owner, editor and publisher of The Rice World, a monthly publication serving the U.S. rice industry.  John also worked in public relations for the USA Rice Council in Houston, Texas and the Cotton Board in Memphis, Tenn. He also has experience as a farm and general assignments reporter for the Monroe, La. News-Star.

John is a native of Lake Charles, La. and is a  graduate of the LSU School of Journalism in Baton Rouge.  At LSU, he served on the staff of The Daily Reveille.

Subscribe to receive top agriculture news
Be informed daily with these free e-newsletters

You May Also Like