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High hopes for new short corn hybrids

High hopes for new short corn hybrids

shorter stature corn at Agronomy Day in Champaign

Eric Winans, a University of Illinois graduate research assistant, explains the merits of shorter stature corn at Agronomy Day in Champaign Aug. 19.

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — There are some advantages to being shorter, especially for a corn plant.

Researchers and corn breeders are capitalizing on the advantages that corn hybrids 2 or 3 feet shorter than popular varieties could have on production in the future.

The new shorter hybrids can handle higher density planting and are less likely to lodge, Eric Winans, graduate research assistant at the University of Illinois, said at Agronomy Day in Champaign Aug. 19. For example, shorter stature corn trials at Bayer Research plots in Iowa fared notably better than typical varieties under the high winds that passed through during the Aug. 10, 2020, derecho, he said.

On average, lodging is attributed to 5-25% of crop loss each year in the United States, Winans said.

Bayer’s version of short-stature corn will have a limited rollout in 2023 and wider distribution in 2024, he said.

Early research has shown as high as a 23 bu./acre advantage with the shorter hybrids, planted in higher density and narrow 20-inch rows, he said.

It is also easier to more precisely manage the shorter crop later in the season, and there may be some savings in aerial applications, the crop scientist said.

Shorter hybrid plants also tend to have deeper roots, allowing them to pick up more nitrogen.

“There was huge growth response to the crop early in the season when banded fertilizer was used,” he said of other trials on the plants.

The new hybrid is non-GMO, with more upright leaves which have access to the sun. It more efficiently uses nutrients and will provide more accessibility for applying products later in the season, Winans said.

While one short plant in a conventional field is virtually a weed, researchers have high hopes for fields of shorter-stature corn breeds. The concept of shorter corn wasn’t new to Jim Martin, a Pontiac farmer attending the event.

Harry Stine of Stine Seed Company has also been developing shorter for years, he said.

“Less residue and high populations is the idea. And of course holds up better in strong winds than tall stalks,” Martin said.

“My dad and neighbors always liked the shorter corn that has come along the past 30-plus years for these reasons,” he said. “It seemed to always put on a short-fat ear as opposed to a long-slender ear from tall corn.”

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Phyllis Coulter is Northern Illinois field editor, writing for Illinois Farmer Today, Iowa Farmer Today and Missouri Farmer Today.

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