Farmers are skeptical when they hear seed reps talk about higher populations being the wave of the future and the key to much higher yield averages than are common today. What's in it for the seed company? In the short run, at least, more seed sales as populations go up. But seed agronomists counter that higher yields are the payoff.
Dupont Pioneer regional agronomists in Indiana recently conducted a population study at Tipton. Although results aren't final, they estimated yields for a recent field day. The differences were striking.
At 22,000 plants per acre, the sample ears pulled from the field average 20 kernels around and 45 kernels per row.
"This would have won the grand champion ribbon at the county fair in the old days," one of the agronomists commented. The yield calculated out to 186 bushels per acre.
However, the same hybrid at 35,000 plants per acre, near the average population of what many people plant today, produced ears with 14 to 15 rows per acre and 35 to 40 kernels per row. The result was an estimated 195 bushels per acre. It's certainly headed in the right direction for those who want to reach 300 bushels per acre someday, but it may still be hard to push the envelope that far without more plants, agronomists say. To prove their point, the agronomists pushed the population to 55,000 plants per acre. Most ears had 12 rows of kernels. The plants each sensed more competition when it was time to set number of rows on the cob. There were also about 35 kernels per year. But when you plug 55 for 55,000 plants and ears per acre in the formula, it blows the doors off the other yields. The estimate was 235 bushels per acre.
The agronomists believe that is the way that farmers will get to 300 bushels per acre. All the answers aren't here yet in genetics and in production practices. The stalk diameter was definitely smaller at higher populations. But yield potential is there is the other challenges can be met.