15 Ways to Increase Corn Crop Yield (Updated 2020)
How can farmers increase their crop yields? Farmers have a number of strategies and solutions at their disposal to increase crop yields. Since World War II, U.S. crop yields have steadily marched upward, buoyed by advancements in seed and seed treatments, farming equipment technology, enhanced and proven farming techniques as well as soaring demand as the human population surges to 8 billion people. Corn crop yields, in particular, have skyrocketed.
Let’s explore 15 Ways to Increase Corn Crop Yield so you can get the most out of your farm and be competitive in an industry becoming more competitive by the year.
Why Is Increasing Corn Crop Yield So Important to Farmers?
Increasing corn crop yield is so important to farmers because land is at a premium and very expensive. As available acreage dwindles, family farms are increasingly being bought by corporate farms. Rented land acres are decreasing and also extremely pricey.
More than ever before, farmers are facing heightened pressure to maximize their farms’ crop yield potential. Many farmers are fully on board with raising their crop yields and have committed to best practices while invested in leading-edge solutions.
This attention to high-yield corn management has been paying off. In the United States, farms in 2020 were on pace to achieve record-breaking growth in crop yield per acre, according to a USDA Crop Production report from August. Corn production was up 12 percent from 2019, with soybean production skyrocketing 25 percent from 2019. In fact, corn production was forecast to reach a record high of 15.3 billion bushels, with yields reaching an average record high of 181.8 bushels per harvested acre, representing a jump of 14.4 bushels from 2019.
Increasing corn crop yield is also more important than ever to U.S. farmers because the global corn market is growing quickly. Countries in South America such as Brazil are becoming dominant players. For U.S. farms to last and even thrive, they must have advantages over cheaper labor, found in these competing lands, especially with farmland that is less expensive in South America than it is in the United States.
History of Increasing Corn Crop Yield
Corn crop yields have risen dramatically decade by decade since World War II ended:
- 33.1 bushels per acre in 1945
- 42 bushels per acre in 1955
- 74.1 bushels per acre in 1965
- 86.4 bushels per acre in 1975
- 118 bushels per acre in 1985
- 113.5 bushels per acre in 1995*
- 147.9 bushels per acre in 2005
- 168.4 bushels per acre in 2015
- 181 bushels per acre projected for 2020
- * Heavy flooding negatively affected yield this year.
- Source: USDA Crop Production Historical Track Records. April 2018.
In the past 70 years, hybrid corn varieties have boosted crop yield and nitrogen use efficiency at an even pace by preserving leaf function during the grain-filling process, according to a Purdue University study. Modern crops keep nitrogen in leaves longer, helping keep leaves green for continued photosynthesis. This extended photosynthesis period enables plants to increase kernel number and size.
Corn crop yields benefited from several decades of genetic improvements before hybrids were widely used. These yields called for increases in nitrogen application, according to the Purdue University study, which found that, in the past 70 years, genetic enhancements have led to an 89 percent increase in grain yields and 73 percent increase in nitrogen use efficiency from early hybrids to the modern day.
The Purdue University research team discovered that the application of nitrogen fertilizer rates has plateaued since the 1980s. They also found that plants are capturing more fertilizer and nitrogen, helping create more grain. By retaining more nitrogen, less damage to groundwater and air quality is occurring.
15 Ways to Increase Corn Crop Yield
Corn is prized perhaps more than ever as a crop to help feed a rapidly growing global population, and a number of agricultural practices that increase crop yields exist to help farmers.
Let’s present our insightful list of 15 Ways to Increase Corn Crop Yield.
Plant at the Optimal Times
One extremely vital way to increase your crop yield is to plant at the optimal times. Soil temperature will indicate when you can get into your fields to plant seeds, so soil testing is part of determining whether the temperature is ideal. Your crops will have the maximum opportunity to intercept the sun and have a long growing season.
Additionally, when planting, you want to be sure to prepare an adequate seedbed and/or planting equipment so you can plant the seed with a good soil-to-seed contact and at the correct depths.
Practice Crop Rotation
It’s key for farmers to practice crop rotation as part of a strategy to increase crop yield. Planting an alternating crop helps diversify the demands placed on your soil. Crop rotation results in crops that yield more and consistently produce, so be sure to limit corn-over-corn planting in your fields.
Know the Yield Potential
Develop proper expectations for your crop yield by knowing your farm’s yield potential. When assessing yield potential, it’s critical to your budget that you have a clear understanding of the kind of crops you’re planting and the kinds of seeds you’re using.
Having a firm grasp on this information will help you set and manage your expectations as well as reveal whether your crop yield potential matches your actual production.
Always Scout Your Fields
Get to know your land well by always scouting your fields. You want to be on the lookout for any weeds, insects, disease and birds that may pose problems with your crop yield.
On exceptionally large farms, you will have a lot of ground to cover by foot, but you simply can’t catch potential problems when driving by on tractors at high speeds. Slowing down and walking your fields will give you the opportunity to check on social conditions and examine whether your farmland might need more herbicides, pesticides and/or fungicides.
Using fertilizers in your cornfields during seeding can help give the seeds essential nutrients such as calcium, phosphorous and potassium. Remember that the root zone, located at the base of your crops, is the most-critical area to facilitate growth so your crop can flourish, delivering a satisfying yield.
Test Your Soil
It is critical for you to test your soil to ensure it has adequate fertility to produce a satisfactory crop yield. Through testing, you can learn about how much nutrients your crops remove for your targeted yield amounts. The three primary nutrients to focus on are nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium (often nicknamed NPK), with calcium, magnesium and sulfur serving as secondary nutrients. On some farms, farmers may also wish to examine micronutrients such as boron and zinc.
When testing your soil, you want to ensure your soil has adequate pH levels. Plant nutrient uptake is usually best at a pH level of 6 to 7.
Use Herbicides to Tackle Weeds
Another way to help increase crop yield is to use a variety of herbicides to manage Roundup-resistant weeds. Nonselective herbicides, designed to kill all vegetation, are favored on many farms, and use of multiple selective and/or nonselective herbicides is recommended to manage these Roundup-resistant weeds.
Tackling weeds is important because they’re invasive and pull nutrients away from the crops you’re growing. To keep them from harming your crops, weeds must be handled early and often. When you scout your fields, you gain the opportunity to notice whether weeds are popping up. If they are, you can put a stop to them before they severely damage your crops.
You can also manage irksome weeds via crop rotation, for example. Identify the weeds so you know what you’re targeting and can apply the correct herbicide and amount. The primary benefits of no till are soil and water conservation, and the key benefits of till are better weed and pest control.
Quality of Seed
It’s important to keep in mind that high-quality seeds comprise the basis to increase crop yields. Whether you have your sights set on increasing your crop yields or getting the most out of your overall agricultural productivity, you need to consider the strength of your seeds.
Hybrid seeds that are naturally inclined to grow faster, stronger and with heightened efficiency is a major factor in contributing to your crops’ success. Non-GMO seeds combine sustainability and cost seamlessly, accounting for quality and cost.
Planting Depth and Row Spacing
Planting depth and row spacing are important factors to consider in trying to increase your corn crop yield.
Planting depth is recommended to be between 1½ and 2 inches but no shallower. Even planting depth with no seed bounce is critical to achieve high yields. Uneven emergence can create inconsistent competition between plants that continues throughout the growing year.
Moreover, uneven tasseling can present problems for farms. Ideally, the crop canopy will absorb about 95 percent of available sunlight. Resultingly, some hybrids with an upright leaf angle may grow better when planted in narrower rows. With row spacing, some farmers have wound up with underperforming corn crop yield and crop yields in general by trying to pack too many seeds in too small a space.
Some hybrid seeds in specific kinds of growing conditions generally benefit from one or even two fungicide applications to help farmers keep their plants growing strong and healthy.
With fungicide application, timing is critical. Farmers tend to have a 10- to 14-day window to work with when it comes to applying fungicides.
Cover crops are planted to cover the soil and not for the purpose of being harvested. Cover crops are advantageous to farmers because they help manage soil erosion, soil fertility, soil quality as well as water, weeds and pests. They can even help manage diseases, biodiversity and wildlife.
Additionally, the use of cover crops such as clover, a popular choice, helps farmers naturally add some nitrogen back into their soils. Dense cover crops can slow the flow of rainfall, helping prevent soil splashing and surface runoff.
When seeking to maximize crop yield, it’s also important to be very diligent in planting. Research has revealed that plant spacing uniformity along with corn crop yield are enhanced as planter ground speeds slow down, according to Mississippi State University. Corn crop yield increased 4.3 bushes per acre for each mile per hour of reduced speed less than 6 mph to 3 mph.
The university’s research also found that retrofitting a planter with a precision planting eSet metering system also boosted corn crop yields an average of about 6 bushels per acre while improving crop response to increasing ground speed by 17 percent.
Moreover, farmers would be wise to pay close attention to uniform seedling emergence. Mississippi State University’s research found that late-emerging plants lose 23 bushels per acre for every single day of delayed emergence.
Make Use of Starter Fertilizer
Starter fertilizers are a vital aspect of most high-yield farmers’ programs even though they boast first-rate soil fertility levels. This is the case because corn usually responds favorably to placing phosphorus, known to be an immobile nutrient, in the root zone. This placement enhances plant uptake when roots are small, boosting early growth and plant maturity. When zinc, another immobile nutrient, is used in starter fertilizer, crop response may also be enhanced.
Reduce Nitrogen Loss
Farmers can enhance nitrogen availability by utilizing better application timing and the best application methods for different nitrogen sources, Mississippi State University researchers have discovered. A warm and high-rainfall climate, for example, greatly increases potential nitrogen loss through denitrification and leaching compared with dry and cold climates, especially in heavier clay soils.
You can stand to improve seasonal availability by applying nitrogen fertilizer at specific times based on corn need. You can make use of a split-application strategy, applying a limited portion of nitrogen shortly after plants emerge and then followed up by applying the bulk of the nitrogen fertilizer just prior to rapid-growth stages.
You may also consider having a pre-tassel application, counting it as another split in your application strategy to help conserve nitrogen availability. This strategy helps cut back on fertilizer exposure to saturated soils that are known to hasten nitrogen loss. You’ll wind up with more nitrogen available for your crops.
Perform a Rain Dance and Pray to Mother Nature for Good Weather!
Even if you’ve dotted all your “i’s” and crossed all your “t’s,” you’re still dependent on rain and temperatures that are optimal for growing your corn. Offering up a prayer and visualizing peak corn-growing weather may be the ticket for a yield that turns out to be outstanding for your farm.
Risks of Not Trying to Increase Crop Yields
Farmers may reap the benefits of tremendous yield gains and mushrooming profit margins by trying to increase their crop yields. The risks of not trying to increase crop yields, however, may be damaging and severely impactful.
Farmers who choose not to try to increase their crop yields limit their revenue potential. With land at a premium and becoming more expensive as the human population soars, these farmers are putting a cap on their crop yields and the amount of money they can earn. As their competition invests the time and energy in solutions to help them grow more crops and earn more money, farmers who choose not to try to increase their crop yields may face a challenging and even successful future.
It is critical that farmers always be mindful of weighing their return on investment. The cost of investing in Avipel Shield amounts to just 1½ to 2 percent of crop yield loss.
Main Categories of Corn Yield
The main categories of corn yield encompass seed, seed treatment, pesticides, fertilizers and organic/natural.
The root of crop yield begins with genetics. Scientists have toiled for decades to produce advanced systems to improve seed genetics with the goal of maximizing yield.
Seeds are bred to grow optimally in every region of the world, with seed traits such as seed size, yields, dormancy and germination playing factors in the breeding process. Some seeds are bred to be drought-tolerant, for example, while others are bred to grow well in very wet climates.
Avipel represents a breakthrough seed treatment. This revolutionary and patented seed treatment quickly and nonlethally prevents blackbirds, crows, grackles, pheasants, sandhill cranes, starlings and turkeys from consuming planted seeds for a larger yield at harvest. Avipel use causes no groundwater contamination, helping ensure the safety of your aquifer or well.
Throughout the United States, birds are known to destroy more than 1 million acres of field and corn before the crop even has the opportunity to emerge. To put an end to this potentially major yield loss, increasingly more farmers have turned to Avipel, which is a scientifically formulated seed treatment that stops birds from eating newly planted corn seed. Avipel’s liquid and dry applications surround each corn kernel with a protective coating that causes birds immediate, yet temporary, digestive distress, causing them to look for alternative food sources while enabling your field to remain fully protected.
Pesticides—including herbicides, insecticides, fungicides and repellents—encompass a wide array of active ingredients to help farmers avoid developing active resistance issues on their farms while improving their crop yields, including their corn crop yields.
Herbicides can help farmers prevent weeds from stealing their crops nutrients and can have a positive impact on crop yield. Herbicides come in two varieties, with selective herbicides designed to kill certain species and nonselective herbicides designed to kill all pests.
With regard to herbicide selections and weed pressure, farmers can tackle pesky weeds through crop rotation and other tactics. It’s critical for farmers to have a clear understanding of the variety of weeds they are targeting so that the correct kind and amount of herbicide may be applied.
Farmers also want to get a good handle on controlling ryegrass before their corn crop emerges. Ryegrass can be extremely competitive with young corn, and ryegrass populations, typically resistant to glyphosate and ALS herbicides, cannot be reliably controlled after corn plants emerge. Mississippi State University scientists have created a management plan for controlling ryegrass competition in Mississippi’s corn production systems. These systems include the use of a residual herbicide applied in the autumn and designed to limit the establishment of resistant ryegrass, with contact herbicides containing different modes of action to control weeds before corn emergence being applied in the spring.
Insecticides prevent leaf-sucking insects from penetrating plant tissue and destroying cells internally as well as insects from directly affecting corn ears. Insecticides can also be used to control soil-borne insects.
As with herbicide use, insecticide use can have a major impact on yield.
Fungicides help keep fungi and disease at bay, helping give your crops the best opportunity to flourish. Fungicides also control and target bacteria and viruses.
With fungicides, many of which are applied via cropdusters, the timing of application can prove to be critical. It’s ideal for fungicides to be applied in shorter-spray intervals during weather conducive to plant disease and before a rain, if possible, for example, according to Purdue University’s Vegetable Crops Hotline.
Just as with herbicide and insecticide use, fungicide application has proven to be beneficial in improving crop yields such as corn crop yields.
A key benefit of using Avipel is that it is a registered repellent, with proven efficacy. Some competing repellents in the marketplace have not been registered, and farmers and their fields may be at risk of unexpected results—possibly negatively affecting crops—with their use.
Fertilizers are natural substances and/or chemicals that are added to soil to raise its fertility. One goal with regard to fertilizers is for farmers to find the optimum balance of NPK—or nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium—for their farms’ specific soil while monitoring all soil nutrients.
As part of this discovery process, farmers can work their way to achieving success by conducting soil testing. This testing is imperative for farmers to find the ideal fertilizer for their farms. A farmer who wants to produce the best crop yield will use the right balance of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium
The organic/natural movements have been blossoming. The new organic/natural inputs that are available to farmers in 2020 are far superior compared with what was available just 20 years ago.
In the agriculture industry, the focus has been shifting among large corporate farms to small organic seed companies from heavy synthetic chemical use to organic/natural approaches.
Organic/natural approaches bring higher and reliable returns for farmers. Organic corn, for example, offers farmers more than double the return. With less market volatility in the organic market compared with the market for conventionally grown foods, prices tend to be more consistent, providing more-dependable income for farmers.
- USDA Crop Production report: August 12, 2020
- 9 Ways to Improve Corn Crop Yields: A Farmer’s Guide. DeDellSeeds.com
- USDA Corn Grain Yield Trends Since 1866
- Laca, Anna-Lisa. June 22, 2018. History Calling: Repeat of 1995 Corn? AgWeb.com.
- Crop Production Historical Track Records. April 2018. USDA.
- Manier, Maureen. Study Highlights Nitrogen Efficiency Gains in Corn Hybrids Over 70 Years. Purdue.edu.
- Avipel Shield Overview. Avipel.com.
- 10 Keys to High Corn Yields. March 16, 2013. FarmProgress.com.
- 10 Useful Rules for Fungicide Application. June 22, 2017. VegCropsHotline.org.
- Cover Crop. Wikipedia.org.