ISSUE 6   June 14, 2007


When I arrived at NDSU after over 20 years of being schooled and employed in corn country, people told me that I had a lot to learn about wheat and other small grain crops, and they were right. I am grateful for all that NDSU Extension staff, and farmers and consultants have taught me over the last 13 years. As a grateful person, I would like to return the favor to those farmers, suppliers and consultants, and share my thoughts about how one might become a better corn grower.

Back in my life before NDSU, a wise truck driver told me- "Franzen, there are truck drivers and then there are guys that drive trucks." I found that to be true, because our company tended to hire the people who drove trucks, because the truck drivers tended to want more money. I personally thought we would have been money ahead hiring the truck drivers, given all the grief we dealt with in cleaning up the messes left by the people who drove trucks, but my old boss is wealthy, and Iím here. However, that phrase was brought back this week by some calls from new corn growers and their consultants about the possibility of treating their corn like they treat their small grains. I think that if a person is serious about growing corn, they need to leave their small grain thoughts behind and embrace life as a true corn grower. In addressing this, I am also utilizing the knowledge of my most esteemed colleague, Dr. Joel Ransom, who will fill in any gaps in my brief list of important things to do in order to raise the bar to Corn Grower.

1. Stand is everything. In wheat, 1 million live seeds is par, and if a grower goes above or below this level, life may still be good. In corn, the difference in yield between 20,000, 30,000 and 40, 000 plants is huge. Corn doesnít tiller. There has to be a certain number of ears out there to yield well. A Person Who Grows Corn uses any old planter to stick any old population into the ground, and what comes up, comes up. A Person Who Grows Corn may run their planter 10 mph to get done more quickly, not realizing that stand and seed depth suffer when the planter is run too fast. A Corn Grower uses the latest and greatest evenly-spaced planter there is (a corn planter, not some reconstituted air-seeder thing they bought at a sale in Pierre), usually costing more than their house is worth, and runs it at the recommended speed in order to achieve the right population recommended by the seed dealer. At the first sign of crusting, the rotary hoe comes out and is effectively used to break the crust and promote a better stand.

2. Protect the corn. In wheat, top-dressing means stream-bars, broadcast urea, sometimes even broadcast 28% cut with water. A little burn- no big deal. A Person Who Grows Corn may think that corn is similar to wheat, and some broadcast urea, top-dressing with stream-bars may work just fine. The difference is that urea and 28% streams roll off of wheat leaves. In corn, they roll into the whorl- a natural cup that catches things and can result in burn. A Person Who Grows Corn may think that itís cool that neighbors stop by the farm, talk to him at the parts dealership or the inn, and ask him what he did to burn his corn so badly. A Corn Grower knows that burning corn is not cool, and that conversations with neighbors about the weather are a lot less embarrassing than personally induced crop disasters. A Corn Grower knows that setting up a spray bar the width of the planter, and adding drop nozzles with orifices between the rows to dribble on 28% is a far better method of late-season top-dress than any broadcast solution. A Corn Grower also tries to anticipate any side-dress and is prepared to deal with it through early-season ammonia or 28% knifed in, or urea dropped under the canopy with the cultivator.

3. Control the weeds. In wheat, weed control is important, but if some weeds escape, a grower can pre-harvest control, and the weeds usually donít grow until fall anyway due to late summer harvest, so most of the time there might not be a huge yield consequence, although weeds still can be a harvest nuisance. In corn, weeds grow until the frost or harvest, and yield consequences can be great. A Corn Grower is obsessive about weed control.

4. Prepare for harvest. A Person Who Grows Corn knows how to deal with 50 bushels of 15% moisture spring wheat in August. A Person Who Grows Corn might be shocked when they start hauling almost three times the volume of corn at 20% moisture out of a field in October, with the forecast calling for snow next week. A Person Who Grows Corn might just panic in that situation. A Corn Grower has drying and storage on the farm, and has visited at length with the local elevator about plans for the crop since before planting. A Corn Grower has visited drying and storage facilities in other states and is aware of and has planned for the higher volume of wetter grain than traditionally found in this region.

If you and your growers embrace the preceding four principles of being a Corn Grower, you will have taken big steps in your transformation to achieve that goal.

Dr. Dave Franzen
NDSU Extension Soil Specialist

Dr. Joel Ransom
NDSU Extension Agronomist

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