The Mid-South is showing its neighbors in the Midwest that they are serious competitors in yield. Last year, Arkansas corn producers averaged 168 bushels per acre, the third best yield in the United States for states with over 500,000 acres dedicated to corn, while Louisiana averaged 165 bushels, good for fourth.
Several factors are responsible for the yield increases, including the adoption of Bt corn technology and the fact that more growers are putting the crop on irrigated ground. Another is that southern-adapted hybrids are starting to flex their muscle, according to Jason Kelley, Arkansas Extension corn specialist. “Two-hundred bushel yields last year across thousands of acres were not uncommon in Arkansas.”
Kelley, speaking at the Judd Hill Field Day in eastern Arkansas, also noted that corn plant populations have been on the rise over the last 10 years, and this has contributed to yield increases as well. “We used to think that 26,000 to 28,000 plants as final stand on corn was adequate. But it's been going up every year. Information from the seed companies shows that the optimum plant population goes up about 300 plants per acre every year.”
Kelly says 30,000 to 32,000 plants “is pretty safe for good producers. If you have an exceptional field, you're harvesting at high moisture and drying it down, I wouldn't have any problem running those populations up to 34,000 to 35,000 plants. That's a lot of ears out there, but if you don't have any limiting factors on yield, you really need to run those populations up a little bit.”
Corn in the crop mix also helps producers spread their workload, noted Kelley. “Corn is going to go in in March or the first half of April. We usually get through planting corn about the time we need to start planting cotton. Corn can be harvested and out of the way before cotton harvest starts.”
Corn can also address glyphosate-resistant weeds that are causing problems in other crops, according to Kelley.
“Ninety-five percent of our corn is Roundup Ready corn, but we have a lot of other options out there with corn, which has more herbicide labels than any other crop. If we have glyphosate-resistant pigweeds out here, we can still control them. Atrazine can do a good job if you hit pigweeds early.”
While heaps of organic matter from corn helps build soil tilth, it can be a bear to deal with after harvest.
“A lot of producers will shred corn stalks, and in the fall, hip back up and incorporate the stalks to decay over the late fall and winter,” Kelley said. “Then in the spring, they knock the tops off the beds and plant.”
The biggest downside for Mid-South corn producers is storage and harvesting capability. “We can plant 1,000 acres of corn pretty quick,” Kelley said. “We have the planters and the sprayers but not the combines and trucks. When all that corn comes off, if you have some type of storage option, you're really in control, especially with where the basis is on a lot of these grains.”
If you don't have storage, Mother Nature is in control and this year has been an example of what can go wrong. “In most years, we have a hot, dry August and we're pretty well through harvesting by the end of the month,” Kelley said. “This year, there were a lot of farmers who hadn't even started by early September.”
Kelley said that growers with storage “were able to harvest at fairly high moisture, put corn in bins and dry it down. But farmers who deliver straight to the elevators weren't able to harvest in a timely manner because of high moisture.”
For many, this pushed harvest of the crop into hurricane season. Kelley noted that there was some sprouting of corn in the shuck in some instances. “We're still trying to find out what the effects of the rainfall were.”
Kelley also noted that 200-bushel corn can put a stress on man and machines. “I talked to a grower last year who was producing corn for the first time,” Kelley said. “He had always been a rice, soybean and wheat producer. He had adequate equipment for 200-bushel rice, and didn't feel like there would be a problem with handling corn.
“After he got going in the corn, he quickly realized that he didn't have enough trucks. Going 4 miles per hour in corn versus 2 miles per hour in rice while creeping over levees puts a strain on the harvesting system.
“One producer told me he could easily harvest 30,000 bushels of corn a day. He wasn't limited by combine capacity. It was trucks and unloading.”
Despite the less than perfect season, Kelley says Arkansas has some pockets of excellent corn this season, “but overall, I think we'll be down from last year. Of course last year, we blew our yield record out of the water (168 bushels per acre). USDA has projected 165 bushels for 2008.”