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High Yield Corn & Zinc

Apr 18, 2022

By Jeff Blauwet, CFE Technical Agronomist

When I started in the business in the early 1990’s our general target corn yields were around 140-150 bu/ac.  Today that runs around 200-220 bu/ac. As always there are acres less than that and some above but that is a target today. That amounts to over 2 bu/ac/yr increase. How have we done that? There have been many steps I believe have gotten us there. In agronomy we talk a lot about the barrel stave principle to visualize the limiting factors.


Each uncontrollable facet like light, rain, other stresses, or controllable like various nutrients and their availability, seed genetics, planting accuracy, etc. can increase or decrease the height of each stave. Of course, the lowest is where our yield potential starts “leaking” first.  Every time we raise the lowest, the next shortest leaks. We will never get the bucket full, but the goal is to hold as much water (yield) as possible.

Since those early 90’s years, one aspect we have put a major focus on is more intensive soil sampling. Going from 35 acres/soil sample doing composites to intensive grid sampling where we are sampling as low as one sample/1.5 ac and addressing needs with variable rate fertilizer and lime. After years of working the majors in pH(lime), P, & K up to try to make those barrel staves taller, the last 10 years or so we started to put more focus on micronutrients especially zinc.

Through yield monitor data analysis over time, we continue to see the influence of higher zinc soil tests correlating to some of the highest yielding areas. We have soil information on our test plot sites and as I look at the highest yielding sites, it is clear that higher zinc levels are in all of them.  Zinc levels are > 2 ppm in all of our high yielding sites. Our Alvord hub plant plot site was quite low when we took it over with levels of .4 ppm. We have applied zinc and a little cattle manure to that site and now have the level up to 2.5 ppm. That site was probably our lowest yielding site initially struggling to get to 200 bu and being 20-40 bu/ac off other similar sites. This past year we pulled 280 bu/ac off that plot. We also increased the pH, P, & K but they weren’t that far out of line like the zinc levels.

Zinc is not the only key to huge yield, but I do believe it is one common step in management that needs proper attention. There is much of talk of phosphorus to zinc soil test ratios and that it needs to be a 10:1 ratio. I don’t see evidence of that being a big deal on our soils yet but having zinc soils around 2 ppm seems to be helpful.  Our highest yielding corn plot (just under 300 bu) this year had a P level at 180 ppm and a zinc level at 2.5 ppm. That ratio is 72:1 so we need to be careful in what our target is. 

If you haven’t been serious about working your zinc levels up, check your soil tests and see if this can help your productivity and see if this is your shortest barrel stave.


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