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High Yield Strategy

Feb 17, 2021

By: Jeff Blauwet, CFE Technical Agronomist

The conversation has changed around how to manage the crop with $4+ corn. Now we can afford to push the crop and shoot for higher yields. The ROI equation has changed and some strategies that didn’t pay before do under this pricing.

Through our Innovate Agronomy Trials and over field observations we have refined agronomic practices/products to improve yields.

One strategy isn’t a product but a mindset. To obtain higher yields, you must think in a “systems” approach more so than a single item. It is hard today to find that one magic product to add that can boost our yields a bunch.  We find that with several nutrients interlinked together, will be more successful than individually. For example if you add one it likely won’t help unless something else ties along with it. Such as higher phosphorus fertility, this only helps if the crop also has higher levels of Zinc. There is a needed ratio that seems to be important. 

High yield crop management will need a base and it all starts with the soil fertility and correct pH. If you don’t have adequate starting levels in the soil, the rest of the options you can do may or may not help much. Higher yield levels start with:  a pH from 6.4 to 7.3 (higher than 7.3 can be a negative), Phosphorus levels > 30 ppm, Potassium levels > 225 ppm, & Zinc levels > 2.0+ ppm. Some research will say phosphorus levels shouldn’t be more than 10 * the zinc levels. This may point to Zinc needing to be closer to 3 ppm w/30 ppm phosphorus levels. We have seen often the highest yielding areas correlated well to the highest zinc soil test levels which may point to some validity here, but we are still learning.

Getting a crop off to a solid-uniform start is critical in corn. Even emergence and ample root development accessing a high enough nutrient content is key and starter/popup fertilizer can start the game off right. We have seen results from 4 – 12 bu/ac with starter fertilizer trials. Lower fertility with 10-34-0 or decent fertility with OptiStart Gold as it contains several micronutrients as well. 

Once off to a great start keeping a high yield potential means doing what you can so the corn “never has a bad day”. We see regularly that zinc and boron are low in tissue samples through the season. We have helped that with zinc in the starter followed by foliar feeding Max In Zinc & Boron with the herbicide pass at V4-5 stage as our trial data has shown an average response of 4.4 bu/ac. You may need to consider a topdress fertilizer strategy if you need additional nitrogen, also consider adding sulfur and/or a little boron to the mix. All of these nutrients are mobile in the soil so especially if we are wet early and water moves through the soil, we may not have adequate levels for high yields and the sulfur/boron aren’t overly expensive to consider adding.

The next critical time in the corn crop is near pollination time. If we have adequate soil moisture we see breakeven responses from fungicides unless it is rotated ground and a defensive hybrid. Offensive hybrids or corn on corn acres tend to give the best ROI from that fungicide application. Winfield’s Answer Plot system tests several key seed brands for response to fungicides so we have that information to help you.

These are just some of the items to consider in a high yield system. Your CFE agronomist can help work through where and what items best fit your operation.

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