Planting Techniques

High-yielding corn requires moderately well-drained or well-drained soil with a pH above 6.0 as well as timely and skillful management practices. Management practices to consider carefully include planting techniques, hybrid selection, fertilization, and control of insects, weeds, and diseases. Correct management of all these practices is essential for maximum economic yield.

Planting Techniques

Early planting usually, but not always, results in maximum corn yields. Under central and western New York conditions, corn planted in late April or early May typically out yields either grain or silage corn planted after mid-May (Figure 3.1.1). Early-planted corn also matures earlier, resulting in lower moisture and grain drying costs at harvest, and lodges less. A general guideline for the best time to begin planting corn is about 10 days before the average date of the last 32°F temperature in the spring. If soil conditions are too wet at this time, wait until soil conditions improve. Corn planted in late May under dry soil conditions will consistently out yield corn planted in late April under wet soil conditions. Conversely, if it is warm and dry any time after April 15th in central/western NY, corn growers should be ready to begin planting. Modern corn hybrids tolerate cold soil conditions and seed treatments protect corn from soil pest problems under extended emergence time due to cold soil temperatures.

Planting depths of about 1.5 inches for silty clay or clay loam soils and 1.75 to 2.0 inches for silt loam and gravelly loam soils are recommended for April or early May-planted corn. Planting depths of about 1.75 to 2.0 inches for silty clay or clay loam soils and 2.0 to 2.5 inches for silt loam and gravelly loam soils are recommended for most planting dates in May. If soil conditions are dry in the top 2 inches in late May and early June, corn can be safely planted to a depth of 3 inches on silt loam and gravelly loam soils.

To achieve the full yield potential of an early planting date, full-season hybrids (hybrids that match the growing degree days in a region) are necessary (Figure 3.1.1). After the first or second week of May, however, the yield advantage of full-season vs. medium-season hybrids decreases when planted for grain. Furthermore, full-season hybrids may not mature, resulting in low test weight, and/or will have high grain moisture at harvest, if planted after the second week of May. Therefore, for grain production, full-season hybrids should be planted only in late April or during the first 2 weeks of May. For silage production, full-season hybrids can be planted until about May 20. Growers should not plant more than 30% of their crop to full-season hybrids. The majority of corn acreage (~60%) should be planted to medium-season hybrids (100 and 200 growing degree days less than the growing degree days in a region for silage and grain, respectively).

If planting must be delayed until early June, early-season hybrids (300-400 growing degree days less than the growing degree days in a region for silage and grain, respectively) are recommended.

The optimal corn population depends on soil type, hybrid selection, and crop use. For many New York soils (well-to moderately well-drained to somewhat poorly drained silt or clay loams), numerous Cornell experiments have shown that modern hybrids still require a harvest population of only 26,000 to 28,000 plants per acre for maximum economic grain yields (Table 3.1.1). Droughty soils, however, cannot support high populations, and plant populations should be adjusted downward (Table 3.1.1). Likewise, hybrids differ in their response to plant populations, so hybrid selection should influence whether the harvest population is at the high or low end of the recommended  range for each particular soil condition (Table 3.1.1). Also, most hybrids require higher harvest populations for silage than for grain production, about 5,000 more plants per acre (Table 3.1.1).

Planting date, tillage practices, pest problems, planter performance, and hybrid selection influence actual corn populations obtained in the field. To compensate for potential problems, it should be assumed that only 90 percent of the kernels planted actually emerge and survive to become harvestable plants in the fall. To obtain 27,000 plants per acre at harvest on a moderately well-drained silt- loam soil, the planting rate should be about 30,000 plants per acre (27,000 divided by 0.90). In some situations such as a no-till situation or an April planting date, it should be assumed that only 85 percent of the kernels will emerge and survive. The planting rate in these situations on a moderately well-drained silt-loam soil should be about 31,765 plants per acre (27,000 divided by 0.85).

Table 3.1.1

Guide to corn populations for New York State (Plants/A)
 Grain CornSilage Corn
Soil ConditionsPlanting Rate
(90% Emergence)
Harvest Population1Planting Rate
(90% Emergence)
Harvest Population1
Very deep loams and silt loams with high moisture-holding capacity~32,25028,000-30,000~37,75033,000-35,000
Well-drained, moderately well-drained, and somewhat poorly drained silt and clay loams~30,00026,000-28,000~35,50031,000-33,000
Sandy loams~29,00025,000-27,000~34,45030,000-32,000
Droughty soils including very gravelly, sandy, or shallow soils~27,75024,000-26,000~31,00027,000-29,000
1Hybrids that respond to high populations should be at the high end of the harvest population range; hybrids that do not respond should be at the low end of the range for each particular soil condition.