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Two ears per stalk isn't the answer to 500 bushel cornTwo ears per stalk isn't the answer to 500 bushel corn

Crop Watch 2015: The first ones to do two ears per stalk consistently will raise more, reasonably sized ears per acre.

Tom Bechman

December 6, 2015

2 Min Read

A former plant breeder was chatting with Bob Nielsen after a seminar recently. Nielsen is the Purdue University Extension corn specialist. He had made the point during this talk that the response curve to population is reasonably flat from 29,000 to 34,000 seeding rates for most hybrids on average to good soils. That means that you may not see more than a one-to-two bushel difference per acre for planting anywhere along the top of the curve where it is fairly flat.

Related: Corn Breeding 101: A Lesson in Basic Corn Genetics


The former plant breeder was perplexed. If that's the case, then why do many people claim the answer to higher yield is more ears per acre? After all, adding 1,000 more ears per acre adds about 6 to 7 more bushels per acre. That assumes that ear size, both in kernel count and weight, stays constant.

Nielsen didn't have an immediate answer. But both agreed on one thing. Trying to produce two ears per plant is likely not the answer.

"We've been down that road and we're not going back," the retired breeder told Nielsen. He remembered when companies thought that would be the answer to higher yields. But plants have other ideas. The second ear is almost always smaller, and if stress comes, the plant will sacrifice the second ear to make as many full kernels as it can in the primary ear.


That's why when I judge county fair crops exhibits, it's always a dilemma when someone brings in a plant with two big ears. You can find them in the field, maybe even find three of them if that's what you have to exhibit. But you're not going to find 30,000 of them. So should you give the higher award to the person who brings three healthy stalks with big roots, each stalk with a large, well-filled ear. That's usually the way I fall when I must decide.

Related: How do farmers get huge corn yields? Inquiring minds want to know

How will farmers fall when asked to produce more in the future? It likely won't be with two ears per stalk. It's going to most likely be with more ears per acre, which means more plants, even if data doesn't support that decision right now.

About the Author(s)

Tom Bechman

Editor, Indiana Prairie Farm, Indiana Prairie Farmer

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