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Unlock secrets to growing more cornUnlock secrets to growing more corn

Corn Watch: Dissecting plants during the growing season can help you better understand corn development.

Tom J Bechman 1

July 26, 2022

3 Min Read
Dave Nanda holds the stalk from a V12 corn plant
STALK STUDY: Dave Nanda holds the stalk from a V12 corn plant that he dissected. He was able to find both the tassel and the tiny top ear. Photos by Tom J. Bechman

Want to grow more bushels of corn per acre? You need to understand how each plant develops 700 or more kernels from one seed, and how you can provide an environment that enables it to develop even more kernels. Unlock the secret of how a corn plant develops, and you will unlock the secret to higher yields.

“I firmly believe that is so, or I would not have dedicated my career to breeding corn and helping farmers,” says Dave Nanda, director of genetics for Seed Genetics Direct, the company that sponsors Corn Watch ’22.

Related: You can check corn planting depth all season long

One way to unlock these secrets is to study corn as it grows, Nanda says. That’s why during a recent visit to the Corn Watch ’22 field, he sacrificed a V12 plant with 12 leaves with collars exposed and searched for key parts that were not yet outwardly visible — the tassel and the ear.

“The tassel is developed and large enough to find,” Nanda says. “It’s more difficult to be there at just the right time to find the tiny ear embedded within the stalk. I was lucky enough to do so this year.

“When I flicked it up with my pocketknife, I discovered it was 100% intact, with all rows and potential ovules for kernels it was going to have.”

Convert knowledge into bushels

Why is it important to know when various parts of the plant develop?

“Do whatever you can to alleviate stress early in the season, not just later in the season,” Nanda says. “This plant had already made key decisions on ear size and length. The decision on ear number happens around V5 to V6. Key decisions are made before the tassel and main ear shoot emerge.”


Here is the tiny ear Dave Nanda discovered inside the stalk at the V12, or 12th leaf, stage. It was fully developed and would have become the dominant ear on the plant.

Preventing stress includes providing adequate nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium ahead of time for plant growth, Nanda says, adding, “If nutrient deficiency symptoms appear, you’ve likely already given up some yield potential.”

Tissue testing at critical times during the season can help you determine if your soil fertility program is adequate, he says. Besides major nutrients, it provides insights into nutrient levels within plants for zinc, boron, sulfur and more.

Scouting for disease also requires a season-long commitment, Nanda says. “Diseases need moisture to develop too, so fields where it was very dry didn’t show signs of much disease early this year,” he notes. “But you still must be prepared. Inoculum is there and can take off if conditions shift.”

Environment factor

Unless you have irrigation, there may be nothing you can do about heat or drought stress or the combination of the two this year, Nanda says. “You can be observant, though, and see how plants react to these stresses,” he says.

“If you have a chance, compare conventional fields to no-till fields and no-till fields with cover crops. Did corn hold up better to hot, dry weather where there was crop residue and/or cover crop residue? Was it enough difference to justify considering these systems for future years?”

About the Author(s)

Tom J Bechman 1

Editor, Indiana Prairie Farmer

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