Thirty-inch rows still dominate U.S. corn production, accounting for nearly 90% of total acres, according to USDA estimates.
But an increasing number of early adopters are looking at narrower rows to get more seeds in the soil and broaden profit margins.
The basic concept is that more plants equal more yield potential. But narrow-row corn is an integrated, high-management approach that will give no-tillers plenty questions to ponder.
A population of 43,560 plants per acre in 12-inch rows places each plant 12 inches apart in the row, as well as between the rows.
In comparison, the same population in 30-inch rows crowds in-row separation to roughly 5 inches.
Proponents say the goal of equidistant spacing is to reduce plant-to-plant competition, providing all plants equal access to nutrients, water and sunlight, as well as a quick-close canopy to discourage weed pressure.
Making the system work, however, requires commitment from seed bag to combine.
University of Illinois agronomist Fred Below believes high-density population is on the horizon for corn producers, but it will require greater attention to agronomic details.
“We know for a fact that we’re going to have to grow more plants to get more yield,” he says. “Hybrid selection is crucial. Fixed-ear hybrids seem to do the best in high populations because each ear tends to produce the same number of kernels.
“You might think that flex hybrids would be better, but the problem is that with more plants, they tend to get smaller.