For corn growers in the High Plains, regardless of whether they are in a dryland or irrigation environment, a research leader says the conversation begins and ends with profitability.

Brian Olson, of the Bayer Crop Science Water Utilization Learning Center, near Gothenburg, Nebraska, provided an overview of several research projects with a timely topic of drought conditions. Olson is the Gothenburg Learning Center manager for DEKALB, a brand of Bayer Crop Science.

Drought in the western High Plains has Olson and his team focused on what actions growers can undertake when subsoil moisture is lacking. Growers in eastern Colorado, northwest Kansas and southwest Nebraska have been placed in the extreme drought category by the United States Drought Monitor. Gothenburg station is in a region where the 30-year annual rainfall total is about 21 inches a year.

As an organization, he notes DEKALB researchers believe a good corn crop has to be addressed in an all-encompassing manner. There is always a healthy discussion about seeding rates.

“It all starts with a successful base,” Olson said.

Even in drought conditions, good and profitable yields could occur with a seeding rate of 14,000 to 16,000 seeds per acre, but with the right mix of herbicides to control weeds, producers can add another 4,000 to 6,000 seeds per acre. While increasing seed rate per acre might seem wise it should be carefully gauged when subsoil moisture is lacking, he said. Growers in central Kansas and Nebraska maybe able to increase seed rates because seasonal moisture is likely to occur even in drier years.

“Dryland production systems in a tough environment have shown that managing corn requires a well-planned systems approach including different seeding rates, herbicide and fertility applications to achieve the best results with limited moisture,” Olson said.

Irrigated operators share common management techniques when they look at seed rate and herbicide management is a premium.

Weed control is an important factor particularly as regions face kochia and Palmer amaranth challenges. Making sure fields have consistently good weed control to allow the higher irrigated corn seeding rates the opportunity to produce high yields is key.

“Weed control is not something a farmer can skimp on,” Olson said. “We also see the value in using fungicides even in years with low corn disease pressure.”

The learning center manager also notes that DEKALB has a wide range of products so that producers can adapt to conditions as the planting season nears.

Olson has noted that farmers are asking about the use of cover crops and he says producers can find them to be a valuable tool to protect the ground from blowing, but they need to make sure the cover crop does not hurt the producer’s limited moisture resources by also sipping out some of the subsoil moisture the corn crop will need during the growing season, regardless if the operator is in dryland or irrigation conditions.

Dave Bergmeier can be reached at 620-227-1822 or

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