A higher seeding rate and narrower row spacing for corn translates into higher input costs, but it should also optimize yields, says Myron Krahn, adding that corn has been part of the rotation on his southern Manitoba family farm as long as he can remember.
Krahn and his wife, Jillian, operate Krahn Agri Farms Ltd. near Carman. He says the crop needs some special attention, but most years it can be a profitable cash crop under a variety of growing conditions.
“A pretty good yield average in this area is about 150 bushels per acre,” says Krahn. “And if you happen to get more than that, it’s getting close to being exceptional.”
These practical production tips can make you a better farmer no matter what crop you are growing.
The Krahns took over Myron’s parents’ farm near Carman in 2003, and today grow corn, soybeans, canola and cereal grains. They also produce seed for native grasses, cereal grains and soybeans. In 2009, they began their seed dealership for corn seed, later adding soybean and cereal seed to the offering, plus an on-site seed-treating system to complement the growing business.
Krahn’s guidelines for corn
Aiming for a three-year break between crops in rotation, Krahn follows a few production guidelines to optimize the 700 acres of corn production on his farm.
Select a variety that is best suited to your region and growing conditions, says Krahn. Temperature plays a significant role in the development and maturity rate of crops. A good indicator of potential maturity is growing degree days. Corn heat units is a measurement of cumulative heat over the growing season. Select one that is rated for your area.
Grow corn on your better land and soil. Corn has fairly high input requirements, so grow it on your better fields to get the most out of those inputs.
Corn does need moisture obviously, but it doesn’t do well with excess moisture and standing water. Corn seeds need to imbibe enough soil moisture to bring seed moisture content to about 30 per cent for germination. Optimum soil moisture for germination is generally considered to be field capacity. Excessive soil moisture will cause inert seed and eventual death of the embryo, while excessive dry conditions will inhibit germination. Hope for that happy medium.
Start with a soil test analysis and recommendation and plan on a fertility rate to support your target yield, says Krahn. He’s developed a split-rate application of nutrients — one shot to get the crop started and a second shot to meet increased nutrient requirements partway through the growing season.
“I apply about 40 per cent at time of seeding and the other 60 per cent at the V4 to V6 stage.” (V4 refers to the fourth vegetative growth stage, the point where the collar of the fourth leaf is visible.)
He splits the application partly because putting all fertility in the soil at seeding could potentially damage seed and injure seedlings, and partly because in his sandy soil a portion of nitrogen could be lost through leaching before the crop gets to use it later in the growing season. At the V4 to V6 stage (usually in June), he’ll apply the rest of the fertilizer, either in liquid form or as anhydrous ammonia.
Krahn seeds corn a bit earlier than recommended. It is suggested farmers wait until soil temperature has reached about 10 C. “I’m finding newer varieties appear to have improved cold tolerance, so I seed a bit earlier — usually in late April or early May,” says Krahn. Wheat and oats are seeded first and then corn is seeded usually by the first week of May.
Seeding rate and row spacing
To optimize yield and target a 150- bushel-per-acre yield, Krahn uses a narrower 20-inch row spacing (many producers seed at 30 inches), and he uses a higher seeding rate of between 34,000 and 36,000 seeds per acre.
“I get more plants per acre, which means seed and fertilizer costs are higher, but with more plants and 10-inch narrower rows, there is less bare soil,” he says. “The sunlight that does shine on the field is hitting more crop leaves and not the soil.”
With improved genetics in newer corn varieties, Krahn doesn’t need to treat the crop for insect and disease pests. Corn varieties have built-in resistance to the European corn borer and the only disease that might be an issue is Goss’s wilt, and there is no treatment for it anyway. His in-crop treatments include two herbicide applications and a third pass to top up nutrients.
Every year can be something different, but usually the crop can be combined by late September and on into October, or later if necessary. Usually the crop has a frost by harvest, but not always. And he usually plans to dry grain corn for proper storage. He will harvest corn in the 18 to 20 per cent moisture range and use a dryer to bring moisture down to 15 per cent or less.
Krahn says while corn markets can be variable just like any other crop, he is fortunate to have marketing opportunities in Manitoba. Often corn can be sold to the Husky Minnedosa Ethanol Plant. There is also demand for corn from cattle feeders and sometimes a portion of the crop can be sold to a distillery at Gimli. “Generally, Manitoba imports more corn than we can produce,” says Krahn.
He says for anyone starting out in corn production, it can come with a high capital cost for starters. He recommends seeding the crop with a proper row-crop planter, a corn header will be needed for the combine at harvest and a producer needs to be prepared for grain drying.
“It probably doesn’t make sense to make the investment in equipment if you’re only growing about 100 acres of corn,” says Krahn. “But at the same time, if you are serious about trying corn one way to spread the risk, check with a few neighbours in the area to see if you can’t get two or three others interested in corn and initially you can share the cost of equipment. With improved varieties coming along every year, corn can now be grown in areas where it hasn’t been before.”