As prairie farmers wait impatiently for the first sustained period of seasonal-average temperatures since 2013, the prospect of another delayed spring now seems almost a certainty. That kind of trouble is bad enough for those seeding the usual canola, wheat and other cereal crops, but it has to be weighing heavily on those who have decided to expand their rotation diversity and add corn in non-traditional corn-growing regions.
Existing corn hybrid growth requirements touch the boundaries of available heat units in those areas. A shorter-than-normal, cooler season can mean trouble. However, with risk can come reward, and corn has the potential to be an excellent moneymaker for prairie farmers.
Just as many growers are learning how to produce that crop in new places, everyone else in the industry is learning too, according to David Vanthuyne, a DuPont Pioneer representative, that spoke at a corn growers clinic in early April. It was held at the Tri-Star Farm Services dealership in Emerald Park, Saskatchewan.
Tri-Star’s retail equipment lines incude Kinze corn planters and a variety of other implements that cater to farmers who are not only pushing the boundaries of new crops, but new production methods as well.
Getting corn planted correctly this season could be especially important to help deal with the tightening weather window. Joel Ransom, an agronomist from North Dakota State University, who also spoke at the event, offered some additional advice on what to consider when planting this crop.
First, make sure you have bin space to put it in, assuming you can get it off in the fall.
“You certainly have to have more storage if you get into corn in a big way,” he said. “Because you’d have about two to three times the volume (of wheat or canola).” He added that harvesting and drying corn may be another challenge for first-time corn growers.
Second, where you plant it requires planning.
“Remember that corn is a moderate to heavy water user,” he added. “So you’re probably not going to want to plant corn after another crop that is a heavy water user. (But) planting depth is moderately deep, so we might be able to capture some moisture that we wouldn’t get with wheat or canola.”
Corn requires about four inches more rainfall in a growing season to maximize yield than spring wheat does. And the crop takes up most of that about 10 weeks after planting during the silk and blister stage, when it is most susceptible to drought conditions.
Don’t plant corn crops back-to-back in the same field. Field trials done by NDSU show reduced yields under those conditions. “There is some drag on yield with corn on corn,” says Ransom.
Third, to till or not to till?
“It also produces a lot of residue,” he notes. “So, (think about) what you are going to plant after it. How will you deal with that residue.”
Ransom recommends farmers not plant corn in the same field following another heavy residue crop, especially under no-till practices. “If you use tillage, then you’ve already dealt with some of that residue,” he says. Heavy residues delay soil warming in the spring and have shown to make corn crops more susceptible to early frosts in the U.S.
“Strip tillage is a compromise,” he continues. It does offer better soil moisture retention than regular tillage and it can help warm soils, allowing for earlier planting and more uniform emergence. “It might open some options for you,” he adds.
In the U.S. many farms do their strip tillage in the spring. But Ransom suggests Canadian prairie farmers will likely want to do theirs in the fall in order to get the maximum soil warming benefit.
“But my question would be, for your conditions is that (spring tillage) enough?” he asks. “Typically, your best way to stip till might be in the fall.”