Production Blog

Corn Takes Off

Pam Smith
By  Pam Smith , Crops Technology Editor
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The first fields of corn are emerging in central Illinois, and emergence looks good in this field near Girard, Ill. (DTN photo by Pamela Smith)

GIRARD, Ill. (DTN) -- "I spy with my little eye something that is... GREEN." Years of car games with my children came back to me as I rolled across central Illinois this weekend and row upon row of corn emerged before my eyes.

Everyone I know has been talking about the long winter and the subsequent late spring planting. However, the locals call this part of the world "racehorse flats." Cash rents are aggressive and so are the farmers. Most of the corn crop got planted here over the past one to two weeks into nearly perfect soil conditions.

Jeff Brown, a Decatur, Ill., farmer and Monsanto district sales representative, said there are very few farmers in his area that did not finish planting corn last week. He estimated soybeans are 10% planted. Rains brought the fevered progress to a halt, but Brown said soybean planting would go fast when planters return to the field because farmers won't have to worry about switching between commodities.

Cory Ritter, Blue Mound, Ill., finished planting corn on Saturday. He said the 3/4-inch of rain received was welcome. "If we get the two to three times that over the next few days, that would concern me," said Ritter.

"We added another farm back to corn from beans because of how well planting was progressing," he added. "I haven't measured soil temperatures, but it has been plenty warm enough. The corn we planted on April 19 is about to poke through."

Ritter has been interviewing fellow farmers about current conditions and posting them as podcasts. You can catch the most recent one involving farmers from South Dakota, Illinois, Indiana and Nebraska here:…

Another thing that struck me on this trip was how clean the fields are so far this spring. I'd credit cool temperatures for slowing development, but my own garden squashes the claim. I have a healthy salad bowl of winter annuals carpeting every bare spot. A lot of fall herbicide applications went down in this area last year in response to a runaway marestail (horseweed) issue. So I'm guessing those sprays or some subsequent burndown cleaned up the carpets we normally see this time of year.

So often we write about tough times and problems. One of my favorite corn articles is "Recipe for a Crappy Stand of Corn" by Purdue University agronomist Bob Nielsen. Fortunately, most of his tongue-in-cheek article doesn't apply where I live this year.

The following recipe will prepare one helping of a crappy stand of corn. Add more acreage as desired.


-- One (1) field, level and poorly drained.

-- Wait until the last possible moment to burn down any winter annual weeds or cover crops.

-- Plant one (1) or more hybrids of your choice, but preferably ones with poor seed quality and low vigor.

-- Do NOT add any starter fertilizer to the recipe. However, an ample amount of starter fertilizer placed right next to the seed will add a little "zing" to the recipe.

-- Add a dash of seed rot or seedling blight organisms.

-- Add a pinch of wireworms or seedcorn maggots.

-- Plenty of spring tillage to maximize soil compaction, though one pass with a disc will suffice if the soil is "on the wet side" when worked.

-- Flavor with acetanilide or growth regulator herbicides as desired.

-- Add minimum of one inch of rain per week after planting to maintain saturated soil conditions.

-- Top off with one or more severe frost events to provide a nice, crisp appearance to the plants.

Mix well and plant as early as possible no matter how cold or wet the soils. Maintain average daily soil temperatures at 50 degrees F or less for three weeks or more after planting. Plant "on the wet side" to ensure good sidewall compaction. Plant either excessively deep or excessively shallow. Plant as fast as you possibly can to ensure uneven seed drop. For best results, follow corn with corn, especially with minimal fall tillage. Top off with a thick soil crust and serve cold.

Will serve six people (farmer, fertilizer and ag chemical dealer, industry tech rep, seed dealer, county agent, university specialist) and amuse the entire neighborhood.

Nielsen will tell you that planting date is only one yield-influencing factor for corn. There's a lot of year left to experience and early planted corn does not always win the yield race. Still, I'm sticking to the outlook that seeing those rows of corn emerge on a sunny day in April is good news.

Related Reading:

Requirements for Uniform Germination and Emergence of Corn. Corny News Network, Purdue University.…

Corkscrewed Mesocotyls & Failed Corn Emergence. Corny News Network, Purdue University.…

The Planting Date Conundrum for Corn. Corny News Network, Purdue University.…

Pamela Smith can be reached at


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