Why Grow Corn in 2006?
By Greg Stewart, OMAFRA Corn Specialist

It feels like being between a rock and a hard place but there are some good reasons to carefully consider crop rotation choices this year and continue to look for places to sharpen your corn growing pencil.

Reasons for Optimism
If you look at the accompanying figure you will see that provincial corn yields are increasing at a fairly healthy 1.5 bu/ac per year. This figure also captures the change in OCC performance trial yields in the 2700-3100 CHU range over the same period. These trials are increasing by 2.5 bu/ac per year. So unlike soybeans, where yield improvements are difficult to find over the past 20 years, there is reason to be optimistic that genetics, the environment, and producer's agronomic skills are all contributing and will continue to lead towards significantly higher corn yields.

Rotation Roulette
It is obvious that on strict economics it is difficult to pencil out corn over beans. However, it is worth reminding ourselves of a few key crop rotation highlights:
· A single year rotation break is enough to optimize corn yields!
· A single year break is not enough to optimize soybean yields! (And this does not necessarily reflect any particular disease pressure).
· Under more stressful environments, the advantages to good rotations increase!

Soil Structure
The long term crop rotation plots at the Elora Research Station (University of Guelph) point out that corn is a superior crop to soybeans in terms of soil structure and production sustainability. After two consecutive years of soybeans, the soil loss in a simulated rainfall event was nearly double that following two years of grain corn. Both short and long term sustainability require some tough decisions about how many years of soybeans in a crop rotation your soil can handle.

Watch Your N Rate
We have been talking and writing a fair bit about getting your nitrogen rate as accurate as possible for the corn crop you are trying to grow. Certainly 2006 is going to be a year when corn producers will simply not be able to ignore the available tools for reducing N rates to the most economic level. This will include taking full advantage of available manure credits, previous crop adjustments, soil N testing, and all other factors that can assist in getting the N rate right. New OMAFRA recommendations are available to help with this. Go to the website at www.gocorn.net to check them out.

Hybrid Selection
Energy costs that have continued to rise have caused some more careful analysis of the relationship between yield potential, harvest moistures, and drying costs. Some might have considered it prudent to give up yield in order to cut drying costs. My analysis to date of the OCC trials has me convinced otherwise. It appears that with a reasonable level of skill in terms of hybrid selection you should be able to pick full season hybrids which produce enough yield to pay for the extra drying costs. In fact, the emphasis in 2006 when the economics are tough, probably needs to be on selecting full season hybrids and getting them planted early. Traditionally we have talked about the 20-60-20 rule for hybrid selection, where a producer selects 20 percent of his/her hybrids slightly longer than full season, 60 percent full season, and 20 percent less than full season. My suggestion for 2006 is the 50-50-0 rule. Select all of your hybrids that are full season or beyond and do all you can to plant early. If planting gets delayed the economics for the cash crop corn producer probably indicate a need to move to another crop rather than risk lower yielding, higher drying cost corn.

Strategic Weed Control
With the wide range of postemergent weed control options, producers should consider the possibility of going in with a low cost pre-emerge plan aimed at the known weed spectrum in a field. If this weed control does the job you have saved the cost of a full blown, broad spectrum approach. In some cases you will need to go back in to control escapes but don't do it without first evaluating whether there is enough pressure to warrant the trip.


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