I asked in my last article if anyone might throw out a burning question for discussion, and someone—some totally lovely, awesome, super-producer—actually did. So, ladies and gentleman, I present to y’all the first ever Asked and Answered by James Banahan (and friends when I don’t know the answer).
Asked: It has been my observation that the companies that sell seed have been pushing higher and higher population as a first step to increase yields. This increases their sales. In observing the growth of my corn plants they began by trying to push two or more ears then one becomes the dominate ear and the second diminishes. Why isn’t corn bred to push two or more ears to completion and be able to use a lower population. During drought years only one would make it to completion. This would be more than the flex attribute, and more to multi ear plants.
Answered: A great question and spot on. Yes, seed sellers (and others in the industry besides sales people, too) push you to plant more seeds. This is true for a few reasons, one of which is that there are few true flex ears left in hybrid lineups. Here are the days of the consistent 16-18 rows around instead.
A corn plant is actually set up to have four (or more) ears. You can dissect a young plant and actually find these “extra” ears. The thing is this: we don’t have the soil or the management to support a plant’s production of more than one ear. We have a tough time fertilizing for the crops we have with the one or two fertility applications we make per season.
If we were able to fertilize well enough to support a two- or more-eared plant, it would be absolutely possible to cut back on populations (and save on seed costs). There arises another problem here though: weed control. Consider how much more bare earth there would be if we cut our plant population in half. You know well that Mother Nature will fill in those bare spots. With weeds. Think too about the diminished canopy if we cut our population in half and the weed issues that would result and very certainly cut into our yields.