26 Jan 2023

Three Major Pieces to the High Corn Yield Puzzle

Farmers aiming for high corn yields should focus on their genetic selections, balanced nutrition and plant health, says LG Seeds Agronomist Robby Meeker. These aren’t novel or earthshaking concepts. But when combined, these foundational tactics enable farmers to capture more of their crops’ genetic potential.

#1. Manage your genetic selections

Smart seed selection means choosing a diverse array of hybrids that spread a farmer’s risk and fit his or her ground and goals. But it doesn’t end there. Catering management to those genetic selections is also critical. 

Meeker offers this example: “We have products like LG64C20 that are grain-fill hybrids. They benefit greatly from later-season management and a side-dress application of nitrogen that helps them to build bigger, heavier kernels.”

That differs from kernel-count hybrids that use more nitrogen early in the season to add kernels. Meeker says, “We can put a lot of our nitrogen up front with a kernel-count hybrid like LG5643 and know that we’re maximizing that genetic potential.” 

#2. Nutrition goes beyond NPK

Knowing your genetics and making sure they are fed at the time of need is crucial to maximizing yield potential.#2. Nutrition goes beyond NPK

Nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium, or NPK, have long been the three major concerns when it comes to crop nutrition. “Our ability to analyze these and other nutrients and micronutrients via soil and tissue tests has improved immensely,” says Meeker. Therefore, he recommends farmers always start with a soil test to assess nutrient and micronutrient levels. 

“Balancing micros can help the plant get the most out of NPK,” Meeker says. “Micronutrients like molybdenum (moly), boron, zinc and sulfur all come into play.” Meeker says Moly plays an important role in nitrogen fixation and nitrate reproduction, with some studies signaling foliar fertilization of the micronutrient can boost corn and soybean yields via its impact on photosynthesis. 

“A moly deficiency can hinder a corn plant’s ability to take up nitrogen,” Meeker explains. “We used to think that to grow 240 bushels of corn, we needed 240 pounds of nitrogen. We’re learning we can apply less nitrogen if we pay closer attention to micronutrients.” 

How those nutrients are applied also matters. Meeker emphasizes, “Banding as many of those nutrients and micronutrients as we can close to the corn plant’s rootzone will increase plant efficiencies to take yields to a higher level.”  

Meeker adds that banding is important to maximizing the amount of phosphorous corn plants take up, limiting nutrient runoff and “helping to get carbon in line.” 

#3. Don’t let disease threaten plant health

A farmer’s season-long management efforts can be for naught if disease prevents the crop from reaching the finish line. Meeker points out, “Northern corn leaf blight, gray leaf spot, tar spot and many other diseases have the ability to shut down the plant and prevent it from taking in the nutrients needed to maximize yield potential.”  

“Therefore, farmers need to scout for disease and be ready to make a fungicide pass, if warranted,” Meeker says. “Applying a fungicide at pollination/brown silk to get the corn crop through grain fill enables it to use as much of that nutrition as possible and finish strong.”

Meeker encourages farmers to do harvest-timing studies on their farms. “We need to think about the big picture. We’re widening our harvest window to achieve higher yields,” he says, adding, “Farmers may need to consider an earlier harvest start and limiting field dry down.”  

Fine-tuning these three yield-building tactics can improve yields and deliver efficiencies that shift the narrative to higher profits. 

For support reaching your yield and profitability goals, reach out to your local LG Seeds agronomist