Beck's Hybrids has carried out a 300-bushel per acre attempt corn plot for decades. They've reached the goal more frequently in recent years. More recently they started a 300-bushel challenge for customers. In 2013, the top five participants averaged 304 bushels per acre, notes Toby Ripberger, head of Practical Farm Research for Beck's Hybrids.
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"We decided to see what these people had in common," he says. "We came up with three practices that seemed to be key in their quest for more yield. It won't deliver 300 bushels every time – you must have the right weather. But it seems that these three practices tend to pay off year after year."
1. Split nitrogen applications. These farmers tend to apply some as starter or pre-plant, and then sidedress or apply some even later with a high-clearance sprayer. The goal is to get nitrogen out there more than one time and when plants need it, Ripberger says.
2. Use higher populations. The population debate will continue for a long time, but the higher yields tend to come with higher final plant populations. There is a difference between seeding rate and plant population at harvest. What counts is population.
3. Use fungicides. Several of them are applying fungicides. The timing of application may vary from early to late and the type of fungicide and application method may vary, but they're paying attention to controlling diseases.
"None of these are that hard to do, and most aren't that expensive," Ripberger says. For example, upping population by planting 4,000 more seeds per acre at current seed prices would cost you about $14.89 per acre. Four thousand more ears could add 28 bushels per acre. Even at today's corn price, that's pretty simple math and a clear-cut advantage for higher population, Ripberger concludes.