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Beck’s test plot on its way to 400-bushel an acre corn

By Connie Swaim
Managing Editor

ATLANTA, Ind. -- Say you want to grow 400-bushel an acre corn and money is no object? What do you do? You create the Disneyland of corn production.
During the 55th field days at Beck’s one of the tours discussed this plot of ground where specialists are throwing everything they can think of into the field to get that 400-bushel mark. 
Travis Burnett, Beck’s Practical Farm Research (PFR)® agronomist, was on one of the PFR tours. The tours are a hallmark of what is now known as Becknology Days, a three-day event showcasing what the company is doing for agriculture. 
The test plot had already hit 300-bushel corn, so the Beck family asked their researchers to think outside the box and see if they could hit 400 bushels. If that mark was hit, then the teams could work backward and find ways to cut the cost to make 400 bushel an acre corn affordable. 
Burnett said the result was like a “Disneyland for farmers.” 
Water is important. The test plot had too much water at times from a nearby creek that sometimes flooded. The ground around the field was built up to keep water out. Then the crop had to have enough water during times when rain might not be plentiful. The test plot has tile with control gates and a drip line was installed. The excess water from flooding was controlled and water was then able to be added later in the growing season. 
Then the group said “what about adding a pivot” to pour water down on the plants. Many wondered why the pivot would help since there was plenty of water going into the roots via the drip lines. It turns out how hot the corn canopy is at night effects kernel depth. If you want the most corn, you want a good kernel depth. The magic number is 72 degrees. If the canopy is above 72 degrees at night the corn starts burning sugar, which decreases its kernels. The pivot was used to cool down the corn on hot nights. 
Crop destruction by animals was also addressed. The test plot attracted raccoons and ground hogs. A two-strand hot wire was run around the entire plot. That helped keep the ground hogs out, but not the raccoons. To combat them, the group planted 10 rows of a corn variety known to be a raccoon favorite. Those rows were on the end so the raccoons would go for that corn and not the rest of the crop. 
The width of crop rows and the distance between plant roots is also important. Of course, nutrients play a huge role as well. The plants are tested regularly to see what nutrients may be needed. 
The upshot of all of this was increasing the kernel depth. “By increasing kernel depth, we increase yields,” Burnett said. He said currently corn runs about 80,000 kernels a bushel. “We think we can get it down to 60,000 by increasing kernel depth and pumping more energy into the ear,” he said. 
The first year of the test plot was 2018 and they got to 386 bushels on a 10-inch row. Burnett said no farmer wanted to talk about 2019. 
When asked what 2020s crop was looking like, Burnett could not hide his grin when he said, “we are thinking 415 bushels this year.”
Beck’s Hybrids is the largest family-owned, retail seed company in the United States, serving farmers in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio, South Dakota, Tennessee, and Wisconsin. “As the largest family-owned seed company, Beck’s has access to the best genetics and trait technologies from suppliers worldwide. In fact, Beck’s strives to provide all customers with the tools they need to succeed on their farm,” the firm says.