The ultimate goal of any corn grower is to squeeze more out of every acre he works. In other words, he’s looking to improve his yield. While improving seed genetics is crucial, the role of ag equipment will be just as critical. Here are some of the farm equipment and technology trends that Ag Equipment Intelligence editors are watching and what every dealer, manufacturer and grower needs to keep an eye on.

Wider Equipment 

Planter and combine widths continue to expand as growers gear up to seed and harvest more acres in less time. 

John Deere officials say today’s most popular planter width is a 16-row unit and the trend will quickly move to 24 rows. At the same time, growers are requesting wider harvesting equipment, such as 40-foot headers that Deere will introduce for the 2010 season to harvest 16 rows of 30-inch corn or 24 rows of corn in 20-inch rows.

Changing Row Widths 

Deere has also taken a close look at different widths for corn and has pretty much settled on 20-inch rows. They see major benefits with this width compared to 30-, 24- or 15-inch rows, although a 17- or 18-inch row width might make better use of available sunlight, plant spacing and canopy closure.

While some growers and suppliers see great potential in twin rows (two corn rows spaced 6 to 8 inches apart on 30-inch centers), Deere isn’t yet convinced and, for now, believes that it’s not much more than a fad.

But if the industry is going to increase plant populations by 30% or more to reach the Monsanto’s stated goal of achieving an average corn yield of 300 bushels an acre by 2030, twin rows will need to play a role. Some agronomists believe plant populations of over 50,000 plants per acre will be required to obtain 300 bushel corn yields and that the easiest way to get there may be with twin rows, 

But as one Illinois grower recently told AEI, “Twin rows will catch on once Deere decides to comes out with a twin-row planter.”

More Strip-Till 

Expanding strip-till acres will be another way to help growers reach the 300-bushel corn goal because it will gives growers a way to deal with heavy residue conditions as yields continue to rise. 

The growth in strip-tilled acres will come from growers currently using mulch tillage practices and no-tillers faced with cold and wet soil conditions in the spring that are looking for new ways to get a quicker start with their crops. (See pageX for how current no-tillers and strip-tillers see potential growth of these practices.)

Nutrient Management 

With growing environmental concerns and higher fertilizer prices, farmers will be forced to do a better job of applying nutrients. This will lead to more extensive use of precision application tools to place fertilizer at the right time, in the right form, in the right place and at the right rate. 

New nutrient management implements from some of the leading shortline manufacturers, as well as Case IH and John Deere are allowing custom applicators and large-acreage growers to apply nutrients at the most ideal time and at high speeds without disturbing crop residue, especially with standing stalks in a continuous corn program. 

“Sidedressing anhydrous ammonia continues to make up a larger percentage of our business each year,” says Dave Harfst of Crop Production Services in Keithsburg, Ill. “We’ve worked with the John Deere 2510H nutrient applicator for 3 years and sidedress as much as 100 pounds per acre of nitrogen at up to 14 mph. There has been no ground disturbance and no crop burning. 

“Developing a sidedressing business with 10,000 acres of corn this year has created a profitable window of opportunity for us between pre-emergence and post-emergence herbicide spraying.”

Role of Precision Ag 

While variable rate planting hasn’t caught on as quickly as expected, precision application technology to make it work is firmly in place.

Some newer planters are equipped with two or more seed hoppers that can hold different corn varieties. By utilizing soil test and yield map data, growers are able to switch hybrids based on different soil types as they move across the field. They can also change plant populations by 10,000 or more plants per acre to take advantage of different moisture conditions, soil organic matter and hilly vs. level ground. 

Another precision breakthrough is the use of swath control devices on planters and sprayers to prevent re-spraying or double planting any part of a field. 

“We have this on our sprayers and growers are totally amazed at the 5-15% product savings,” says Harfst of Crop Production Services. “I expect swath control to also come soon to toolbars for applying fertilizer. In fact, I’m betting that it will eventually become mandatory for effective nutrient management.”