Getting high corn yield isn’t that much of a mystery: get simultaneous emergence, spray and fertilize in a timely fashion and with enough co-operation from Mother Nature you can get top yields.
That’s easier said than done, considering the many factors around getting corn to emerge at the same time.
The Cook family of Mapleview Farms between London and St. Thomas have gone to great lengths to make simultaneous emergence consistent on their farms, and Jeff Cook told the SouthWest Agricultural Conference that they believe it is paying off.
Why it matters: Corn is 30 to 40 per cent of most farmers’ acreage and achieving consistent, profitable yield is important to farm financial health.
“Traditionally we think about seedbed preparation just before planting,” Cook said. “I think it starts the year before managing residue and doing fall tillage.”
He was part of the Real Corn Growers panel at SWAC that also included Mike Strang, from Exeter and Andrea and Adrian Donkers from Elora.
The Cooks run a Landoll vertical tillage disc in the spring to size and mix residue on a first pass. They then run a C-shank cultivator before the planter — always running the exact direction of the planter, on the same preset AB line, to avoid any tillage barrier to the planter running smoothly.
They’ll also sometimes use an S-tine cultivator, especially in years like 2019 when there was significant crust on the surface of the soil and the ground was wet underneath and not drying.
But it is on the planter itself where they’ve made a significant investment in making sure every row gets an equal shot at emergence.
They added an Aulari dry fertilizer box onto their new John Deere 24-row planter when they bought it in 2012. Measuring yield showed them there were compaction issues on the centre 12 rows. On some farms it was significant, on others it wasn’t, but they figured they were losing 10 bushels per acre in yield in the rows behind the tractor. In 2016, they invested in tracks for the planter. The Soucy tracks cover five times the ground area compared to tires.
They purchased a new planter in 2019 and it also has tracks. They did some plots where they tracked the yield from the wing rows and the centre rows and they came out within a bushel of each other.
“It’s intriguing stuff and just one year, but we will continue to do some trials,” says Cook. “We think these tracks are working pretty well for us in corn and other crops as well.”
The Cooks are also trying variable rate planting. Cook says it’s important to remain involved throughout the variable rate data and map creation process.
If you’re having someone off the farm complete the maps and they haven’t set foot on the farm, they won’t know the zones as someone does who works the land. They won’t know where tile has been added or fixed or lime applied.
He says even their fields that seem uniform show quite a bit of variability. They’ve had wins and losses on scripts, but Cook says they believe they have made $20 to $25 net profit by using variable rate planting on about 70 per cent of their acres.
Variable rate shows field variability
Mike Strang farms with his brother Jeff and together they heavily modified a Kinze planter they purchased to do, among other things, variable rate planting.
They also do a lot of strip till and plant their corn in twin rows on 30 inch centres.
They have modified their strip till unit so that they can apply variable rate MAP and potash.
They have been experimenting with variable rate planting – including mixing “racehorse” (for good land) and “workhorse” (for lower quality land) hybrids at different rates in the twin rows and also varying planting rate. Good yielding areas get 38,000 corn seeds per acre, but they decrease the rate to 32,000 in lower-yielding areas.
Strang says they still aren’t sure whether the variable rates make sense and will need more years of data to know for sure.
Manure is corn-yield power
Poultry manure is a key component of productive corn crops for Andrea and Adrian Donkers who farm about 4,800 acres in Wellington County.
Their poultry operations supply a healthy volume of manure.
“We use manure strategically as a fertility input,” said Andrea.
They run two large manure spreaders and can move large volumes. At $50 nutrient value per tonne, they believe it makes sense to move the poultry manure a distance.
Another important factor in the success of corn on the Donkers farm is their John Deere MaxEmerge 24-row planter with a Salford cart attached for dry fertilizer. When conditions are good, the planter has to move and move fast, says Andrea. It makes everything better. They’ve looked at data and speed of planting hasn’t affected their yields.