Dave Nanda didn't take too long before reminding me about his predictions from nearly 20 years ago after he saw results from the National Corn Growers Association Corn Yield Contest 2014. A Georgia farmer topped 500 bushels per acre on 10 acres in 2014, and at least two others posted yields in the very high 400-plus bushel per acre range.
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Nanda, a plant breeder by trade and now a consultant for Seed Consultants, Inc., and others, predicted in print roughly 20 years ago in Indiana Prairie Farmer that there was the potential for corn to reach a yield of at least 500 bushels per acre. That was even before an Iowa farmer posted a yield of more than 480 bushels per acre. This year, however, marks the first year that someone actually topped the 500 bushel per acre mark.
There are plenty of places to read exactly how he did it. Those in the corn contest business, farmers at least, tell us most people don't divulge all their secrets. However, that doesn't change the fact that the 500-bushel plus yield is legitimate. If you are asked: "What is the most corn that could be produced per acre?" you know that the answer is at least 503 bushels per acre. It's now fact, not just theory.
Nanda holds to his beliefs that much higher plant population, meaning more harvestable ears (although smaller ears), will be the wave of the future. He started evaluating plants in inbred nurseries at 80,000 plants per acre more than 20 years ago, looking for parents that could stand up to such population stress from the beginning.
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He's also convinced that plant type, favoring a shorter plant with a Christmas-tree look to allow maximum sunlight utilization, will be key. Nanda adds that equidistant spacing – probably produced by narrow rows and adjustments that cause planters to drop seeds at equal distances – will help more farmers move closer to yields of 500 bpa or more.