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Early Difference in Emergence Catches Plant Breeder's Eye

Four days spread in planting dates matters early in the season.

Dave Nanda did a double-take while walking through small plots planted on Jim Facemire's farm, Edinburgh, as part of the Farm Progress Corn Illustrated plot series earlier this year. He saw corn twice as tall as the rows next to it. Figuring the difference in planting date was a week or more, he soon learned otherwise. When he checked his records, he noted that there was only four days difference. One set of rows were planted May 3, the next set May 7.

Nanda realized, of course, that early in the season planting date can make a difference because plants of the alter planting haven't had ample time to catch up yet. "But I was surprised at the amount of difference between the two," he notes. "Both sets of rows were uniform- it's just that the earlier planted corn, by four days, was much bigger at that stage."

The Corn Illustrated plots support anew section in Farm Progress magazines, including Indiana Prairie Farmer, devoted to helping farmers learn more about how to grow and manage the number one crop in the U.S. The first edition premiered in the May issue of Indiana Prairie Farmer and all other Midwest editions of Farm Progress magazines. The next installment will appear in August. Plans call for presenting the section every three months.

One hallmark of the section will be descriptions, pictures, and implications form work done on these exclusive plots. Besides various small plot experiments, the project also involves a field-size scale of various nitrogen rates, plus another experiment dedicated to producing 325 bushels per acre. While hitting that mark the first year may be a long shot, Nanda says they hope to get a good start on reaching the goal through picking the right genetics, providing enough nitrogen so that it's not a limiting factor, planting in populations up to 40,000 per acre, and then applying fungicides on part of the plots, as a treatment. He believes the high-yield package hybrids planted in that particular study could respond to a fungicide applied around tasseling time.

Results so far from farmers, largely anecdotal, indicate that the concept of spraying fungicides on corn is much more susceptible on some hybrids than others. Nanda believes that's because there are still reasonably wide differences in disease packages carried by commercial hybrids. A hybrid with a weaker disease package would be expected to perform better and show more yield advantage for a fungicide application, especially if it happens to be a year featuring wet weather during tasseling time- a good playground for fungal disease sin corn that can trim off top yields rather readily.

The experiment in the small plots where Nanda observed the striking difference in plant height is part of an effort to verify how and when corn yield falls of based upon planting dates. In small-row tests, the same hybrid has been planted six times so far, beginning May 1. the goal is to plant it 10 times, with the last planting being in very early June. The goal is to determine exactly where that break occurs where yield truly starts slipping away.

Of course, the farmer, Jim Facemire, makes a valid point. "You can tell where yield slipped this year in this field, not what will happen every year," he says.

Nanda nods in agreement, but also adds that once you do this type of test for two or more seasons, you should begin to get a feel for how corn will respond to planting date in most situations.

Stay tuned for more reports from the Corn Illustrated plots.

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