No Irrigation Needed to Grow Big Corn Yields in the Piedmont


The past couple of days we’ve been talking with NC State Extension Corn specialist, Dr. Ron Heiniger about some management techniques that can be employed this year to boost corn yield.  When corn was $7 a bushel, irrigation systems popped up in the central Carolinas like mushrooms, but Heiniger says irrigation isn’t necessary to boost yield:

“No, not at all. Well, last year was a good example, in the Piedmont, there were places in the Piedmont that made 250, to 300 bu/a yields without irrigation, and yet they had one of the driest seasons in a long time out there.  Again, they managed water, they planted at a time when they had good soil moisture, they made sure, again, they had plenty of residue to protect their water resource, they managed their compaction to have a good root zone to explore for moisture.  The successful growers last year planted a little later and that was a good idea last year, because we were in a neutral, or basically a La Nina weather season that favors later planting, and those growers understood that seasonal effect that pattern has.”

Heiniger stresses that we’re not talking about the rich, organic soils of the Blacklands, but all soils, including the droughtier soils of the Piedmont:

“In fact, the Blacklands have a disadvantage compared to some parts of the state, because some of those soils don’t drain very well, and very poorly at time, so if you get a big rain, or the wrong consistency of rainfall, they can suffer a nutrient problem because of saturated soil.

No, we’re talking about Coastal Plain, sandier soils, some of these soils that we consider rough, or low potential for corn yields, those soils have better potential for raising corn then we give them credit for.  Because we do have better stress tolerance, that opens doors for us to manage these fields better, it means, it opens the door for a short period of stress, as long as we can get the moisture to them at the right time.”

So, here we are approaching the end of March.  Are these techniques that we can employ this year?  Heiniger says, you bet!

“They sure can.  For instance, this is a very different season than last season, and I’ve talked about this at many grower meetings, this is El nino season, we’ve got lots and lots of data that Dr. Gail Wilkerson and I have put together looking at planting seasons in an El Nino, and we should be planting early.

So, the weather this is providing us that opportunity, we’ve got unusually ideal conditions for early planting here shaping up, and El Nino season indicates that we need to take advantage of rainfall early in the season, rather than hope for a late rainy period.

So, this is a good season to take advantage of this early planting opportunity. And that’s part of that managing water, you rely a little bit on climate, it’s not so much a prediction, as it is understanding a pattern and taking advantage of that understanding that we didn’t have even five years ago.”

For more from NC State Extension Corn specialist Dr. Ron Heiniger on growing big corn yields, visit SFNToday .com

A native of the Texas Panhandle, Rhonda was born and raised on a cotton farm where she saw cotton farming evolve from ditch irrigation to center pivot irrigation and harvest trailers to modules. After graduating from Texas Tech University, she got her start in radio with KGNC News Talk 710 in Amarillo, Texas.