If you think talk about 55,000 plants per acre someday in corn fields is just a lot of hot air, you might want to take a look at what various companies are discovering and saying.
Dave Nanda, director of genetics and technology for Seed Consultants, Inc., actually predicted populations would someday go to 70,000 plants per acre. He made that prediction while working as a plant breeder for Stewart Seeds, now owned by Monsanto, and he still sticks by that prediction.
While breeding corn for Stewart Seeds at Greensburg several years ago, Nanda began testing inbred nurseries at 70,000 plants per acre. He was looking for plants that could stand stress of high population early in the breeding cycle.
Recently, Stephanie Smith, a DuPont Pioneer production agronomist, demonstrated to farmers that 55,000 plants per acre could out-yield 35,000 plants per acre by 40 bushels per acre, at least in demonstration plots. She's not saying the genetics to do that commercially are quite here yet – the stalks are much smaller in diameter – but she's saying that the road to 300 bushels per acre will likely run through higher populations than those farmers plant today.
Meanwhile, Stine Seeds is planting thousands of acres in 12-inch rows, getting closer to equidistant spacing. The company even planted plots at the Farm Progress Show on their exhibit lot so farmers could see what it looked like. They planted both hybrids that can handle that population in 12-inch rows reasonably well, and hybrids that can't handle it. While Stine agronomists are also not recommending that farmers start planting 55,000 plants per acre in 12-inch rows right now, they are developing a database of yield results which seem to point toward that path as the way to the future.
Marion Calmer was convinced that more ears per acre was the key to higher yields a long-time ago. The Alpha, Ill., farmer started Calmer Cornheads, and last year introduced 12-inch row heads. Recently he introduced a cornhead that can harvest more rows of corn than any other head on the market.