Mike Scholting is pretty straightforward about planting corn in his part of the country.
"I have to deal with real-world problems, and when I've gone over 30,000 plants per acre on my regular corn, I've lost stalk size," said Scholting, of Louisville, Nebraska. "Around here, the bigger the stalk, the bigger the yield."
Scholting and his wife, Kim, farm near the Iowa border. Their nonirrigated yields across all corn acres, which they rotate with soybeans, have been around 225 bushels per acre aided by deep, productive loess soils in the Sharpsburg series. The last two years have been even better, with corn averaging 240 to 250 bpa.
"My counterparts in Iowa are pushing 34,000 to 36,000 plants per acre," he said, "but I haven't had such good luck with populations that high. And, I've been to David Hula's place in Virginia. He can go to 40,000, and the stalk size is outstanding. Anytime we've gone over 32,000, our stalk size went down."
Generally, Scholting plants 30,000 to 32,000 seeds per acre, looking for a final stand of 28,000 to 30,000 plants per acre on his commercial acreage.
Hula, of Charles City, Virginia, currently holds the title for most corn produced in the National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) National Corn Yield Contest. His 2017 contest yield of 542.27 bpa is a world record.
Scholting is a nationally recognized corn producer with a history of success in the NCGA contest. In 2015, Scholting's entry of 329.6426 bpa earned third place in the Class A nonirrigated category. He has often been near the top since first entering the contest in 1992, shooting for the moon on 20 acres as he sought ways to make his other 1,580 acres of corn more productive.
In 2016, his yield of 288.4933 bpa won the Class A nonirrigated category in Nebraska, though it didn't win nationally.
"Yields across our total acreage [in 2016] were the best we've ever had," he said. He attributed these to ample rains in July. Those July rains didn't happen in 2017, however. Instead, 13 inches fell in June 2017, and "we just did not have the root system of a year ago."
SEEDS AND FERTILITY
Scholting said the biggest lesson he learned from competing in the NCGA contest was how to manage fertility better. Experimenting with plant populations, he added, has also been a big factor.
The amount of seed Scholting plants doesn't depend on type of tillage. Almost all of his corn is planted no-till, using row cleaners to sweep away residue and warm up the soil. On lighter soils that are more drought-prone, Scholting will drop 28,000 seeds per acre instead of 30,000 seeds.
"On contest corn, I've had the best luck at 32,000 [seeds per acre], which is low compared to what some guys are doing," he continued. "It was 2015 that was our first time to make over 300 bpa, and it was extra nitrogen at V7 and V8 that did it." In 2017, he planted for a 34,000-plant population. "And, I think it's better," he said. Kim Scholting placed second in Nebraska's 2017 Corn Yield Contest nonirrigated group. Her dryland yield was 289.73 bpa.
"David [Hula] tells you the plants should all come up within hours of each other, and that is right on," he said. "We plant no faster than 5 to 5 1/2 mph, and an even downpressure is so important in our soils." Scholting deploys 12- and 24-row planters.
He tweaked fertility slightly in 2016, adding a potash preplant even when soil tests said there was plenty available. Tissue analysis had indicated otherwise in previous years. "Soil tests say potash is available, but our crop scout said it's tied up. Throughout the years, I thought I had done a good job with fertility, but tweaking the little things, like potash, helps."
Hybrid selection is essential. Scholting's wife is a DuPont Pioneer rep. She picks hybrids depending on where they will be planted. But, the couple always considers the following characteristics, in this order, for corn to thrive in their relatively high-plant population environments: drought tolerance, root strength, stalk strength and potential for yield high.
"Drought stress is the No. 1 thing we look at, because 99 times out of 100, we have a dry spell during the summer," Scholting said.
He has changed his planting strategy over time. He planted in 20-inch rows at slightly higher populations from 2004 to 2012 but is now back to 30-inch rows.
"The 20s were never worse, never better," he said. "They were blown over constantly in wind storms, and they'd be a nightmare to harvest."
Scholting also believes the dense canopy formed by narrow rows was holding in too much heat at night, affecting silking.
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