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No-stress corn produces high yield

Allan Morrisett hates to see his corn suffer. That's why the Tyronza, Ark., producer plants wheat or beans on the dryland corners of center pivot irrigated corns fields. And if it's time for a nitrogen application and the fields are too wet for a ground rig, he won't hesitate to call his aerial applicator.

Morrisett farms around 6,500 acres, which this year includes 1,000 acres of corn, 1,000 acres of rice, 130 acres of cotton and the balance in soybeans. The producer was not able to seed his wheat crop last fall due to inclement weather.

A little over 80 percent of the farm is watered. Center pivots cover 1,500 acres, 1,800 acres are precision leveled and the rest is flood irrigated.

His decision to plant dry corners on his irrigated corn in soybeans or wheat comes from observing poor performance with dryland corn in 1998, the year before Morrisett got into corn.

His consultant, Brett Provost, Provost Crop Management, Inc., Jonesboro, Ark., noted, “You're putting the same inputs everywhere. If you have 30 acres of dry corners in a 180-acre field, the dryland corn could kill your crop yield. And if you have aflatoxin, you're not going to find anybody to take a load.”

Provost says Morrisett understands the importance of fertility timing, too. “I've seen a timely nitrogen application have a direct effect on ear size and kernel count. That's where Allan does his job. Application timing.”

Morrisett's corn is rotated with soybeans, and some with wheat/soybeans.

After soybean harvest, Morrisett tries to get any ground preparation for corn completed in the fall. “If we have to work the ground, we bed it up, except under center pivots. We'll plant that flat because it drains better.”

The producer prefers to start planting corn around March 15, although it's been April 1 the last two years.

Morrisett will burn down behind the planter with glyphosate, Harness Xtra and atrazine and applies Asana for cutworms using a Hi-Cycle. “Normally, we don't have a lot of vegetation to deal with that early in the year. When it gets dry, it's usually time to plant.”

At that time of the year, with soil temperatures around 55 degrees, “it's going to take corn a week to 10 days to come out of the ground, about the time that the burndown has done its job,” Provost said.

Morrisett's at-planting weed program usually gets him all the way through the season, noted Provost. “This year, we had two center pivot fields where we had to come in at 10-leaf and put out Buctril for morningglories.”

The Hi-Cycle is followed by the fertilizer buggy. Morrisett applies an average of 100 units of nitrogen as starter, plus 60 to 80 units of phosphate and potash.

Corn hybrids run the gamut of maturity, from 110 days to 120 days. The majority is conventional corn and includes DeKalb's 611, 650 and 6971 and Pioneer's 31G98, 31R88, and 32D99. DeKalb 611 is a short-season variety grown under a towable center pivot.

“We do everything backwards,” Morrisett said. “We plant our short-season varieties first and our long-season varieties last to spread out harvest.”

Morrisett will put out another 150 units of nitrogen at five- to six-leaf, but no later than eight-leaf. About a week before corn starts tasseling, he puts out another 50 units to fill out the grain.

Those applications usually go out by air, “depending on the weather,” Morrisett said. “The last two years, it's been wet and hard to get in the field.”

The yield benefit from making the nitrogen application on time is nearly offset by its cost when it goes out by air. But it goes back to Morrisett's philosophy to not stress the corn.

Provost explained, “If you wait to do it with a ground rig, you have to wait for the water to run off the field and then get firm enough for the tractor and rig to go through. Corn can move two to three nodes in a week's time under optimum conditions.”

About 650 pounds of urea — around 300 units of nitrogen — will go out on every acre. That's a lot of nitrogen, Provost says. “You wouldn't put that much out if the population wasn't there for a high-yield potential. Our population this year is about 32,600 plants per acre, on the average.”

Morrisett uses the Arkansas Scheduler from the University of Arkansas to time his irrigations. Irrigation on 115-day corn planted April 1 will typically begin the first week of June and be terminated between July 21 and July 28.

Again, timeliness is paramount. “You don't want any kind of moisture stress when you're determining the number of kernels per ear,” Provost said.

Morrisett runs all his corn through a Airstream batch dryer which loads and unloads about 600 bushels an hour. “On the tailend, there might be 100 acres that goes straight to the elevator if it's dry in the field,” Morrisett said.

The dryer runs day and night and “just barely” keeps up with the one combine which Morrisett dedicates to corn harvest.”

Average corn yields come in around 175 bushels to 180 bushels across the farm. On a 35-acre verification field, Morrisett averaged 218 bushels per acre with Pioneer 31R88, a conventional. “It was a total post-program, Basis Gold and atrazine,” Provost said. “We followed the soil test recommendation and put down our usual amount of nitrogen, but we went with 60 units of phosphorus, 80 units of potassium, plus sulfur and zinc.”

Morrisett worked with Jeremy Ross, an area agronomist with the University of Arkansas on the verification field.

Morrisett planted his one stacked corn hybrid on a 85-acre field “just to see how a Roundup Ready variety would yield versus conventional,” he said.

But another reason for considering Roundup Ready corn is to eliminate the potential for drift from other Roundup Ready crops and/or burndown applications. All of Morrisett's cotton and soybeans are Roundup Ready.

Drift has not been a bad problem, “but everybody has to work together, especially if you put a conventional crop out in the middle of a bunch of Roundup Ready crops,” Morrisett said.

On the other hand, “it doesn't make sense to grow Roundup Ready cotton, Roundup Ready soybeans and Roundup Ready corn in the same rotation,” Provost said. “That's the reason you have crop rotation — to break up the chemical rotation.”

For that reason, where Morrisett goes to Roundup Ready corn, it will be to address crop safety issues only. “We would probably stay on a conventional weed control program,” he said.

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