Ongoing research may lead to increased corn, soybean yields

Row width is one of the management practices most often considered by growers and researchers as important for increasing corn and soybean yields and profits.

Dennis Burns, LSU AgCenter extension agent in Tensas Parish, began researching the 30-inch seed bed production system in corn in the mid-1990s.

“Even in the ’90s we had problems with water runoff and severe erosion,” Burns said. “Until now, there has not been any research done on the wide-bed system, so this research is really important.”

Since the early 2000s, farmland efficiency has been on the radar of many top agricultural commodity-producing states. Over time, a series of conservation and best management practices have revealed that not only is conservation possible by incorporating new systems, but improving yields and profits is possible as well.

“Research has shown that we will definitely get a yield bump from 30-inch corn over 38-inch corn, and there is some research showing that the yield bump is possible with soybeans,” he said. “That’s what this research is doing. We are trying to confirm the wide-bed production system and to determine if there is in fact a yield bump.”

Burns’ description of the 60-inch system is comparative to a water furrow.

“The wide-bed system employs a flat bed that is roughly 1 inch tall and gives the farmer a good place to put fertilizer, is nice and mellow, and is ultimately a good place to plant into,” Burns said. “A 30-inch bed tends to erode, is hard to plant on and is more difficult to manage. Whereas the 60-inch system is much more stable for planting.”

Increasing crop yields and net returns are both undeniable benefits to using a 60-inch production system in corn and soybean production. However, there are some soil environment advantages that are due for consideration.

“If you get into this system where you are rotating soybeans and corn on a wide bed, you’re really not disturbing the seed bed ecosystem,” Burns said. “That is because you are never really reworking the bed.”

In the 60-inch production system, Burns said that reworking the furrow is done to get the drainage right. By doing this, the roots of the plant have plenty of room and there is no compaction. As a result, the bed will become mellow and develop a nice environment for the plants to grow.

Where price is concerned, Burns explains that what few economic differences might be found would primarily exist in production costs.

“With this system, the same amount of seeds are planted and the same amount of herbicides are applied so there is no real difference in the economics of growing,” he said. “This is because you’re planting the same number of seeds. You just space them out differently.”

Historically speaking, Louisiana farmers have seen increased production followed by increased profits when new production methods are incorporated into their operations. Because of the potential for increased returns coupled with an improved soil environment, Burns forecasts an easy transition.

“If you are going to be in a corn and soybean rotation, this is a way that you can go to 30-inch corn and 30-inch soybeans,” he said. “This involves simply moving some units on the planter equipment; there is not really much cost involved to convert to this production system, and it should only require a minimal amount of labor.”

Farmers across the state of Louisiana are practicing conservation and implementing best management practices at a high rate. While this research on the narrower production system is ongoing, Burns points out that overall differences will only be seen in potential yields.

“The conservation practices that are currently in use on other production systems will ultimately be the same in 30-inch production systems as in the 38-inch systems,” he said. “The biggest difference is in the potential yield increase from having a narrower row.”

9/17/2021 8:35:09 PM
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