The way to the future is higher populations and smaller ears, just many more of them. Higher population means 60,000 or more plants per acre. Dave Nanda, plant breeder, said it nearly 25 years ago. Harry Stine of Stine Seeds has pursued it for a long time. Nanda is a consultant for Seed Consultants, Inc.
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Stine Seeds began demonstrating planting hybrids in 12-inch rows in plots, even at the Farm Progress Show, a few years ago. Their reps made the point that some hybrids were suited for it, and some weren't. They typically grew hybrids that could handle it, and hybrids that couldn't handle it, to show the difference.
This year Stine is pioneering a twin row, 20-inch row approach at these high populations with genetics that can handle it. They're moving as close to equidistant spacing as they can and still developing a system that could be handled with existing equipment.
Recently, Nanda stumbled across an example which helps make the point. He found two rows planted about 8 to 10 inches apart either by mistake or to account for making the field come out evenly. Total population between the two rows was about 65,000 plants per acre.
"There was quite a bit of lodging," Nanda observes. "Most of the plants had ears, although a few were barren."
OK, why didn't it work if 60,000 is the wave of the future? "The difference is genetics," Nanda says. "Two hybrids were planted in the field, and it looked to be one row of one hybrid and a second row of the other. One hybrid handled it better than the other.
"These were tall hybrids, not bred to handle such extremely high populations. To make it work, we need shorter hybrids with the plant type that can grow in close proximity to neighbors. The whole point is that it will work, but it takes the right genetics to make it work."
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That seems to be the same message coming from Stine Seeds. It appears they may be on the doorstep of an evolution in plant spacing and population.