What does it take to grow maize?

With corn prices at record highs, due to extensive Midwestern droughts, more people are looking into the most effective ways to grow maize.  Technically a grain, corn is more often considered a vegetable or starch. Its categorization depends upon how it is processed or used in cooking.

Maize is the most common crop grown in North and South American. In fact, the United States is responsible for 332 million metric tons every year on its own, which equates to nearly 40% of the world’s supply. All but 15% has been genetically modified. Almost half of the total is processed into corn-based ethanol.

The best time of the year to grow maize in the United States begins in April with harvest ending in November. Typically, planting season continues until June, and harvest begins in October. In China, where about 20% of the world supply is produced, the season is similar. The main difference is that the harvest season is lengthened, and begins in August.

Two primary types of corn dominate the market: sweet corn and field corn. Sweet corn is predominantly distributed through supermarkets, and eaten on the cob. Field corn becomes a source product for numerous other items, ranging from oils to cattle feed and fuels.

Those who farm sweet corn professionally typically do so on irrigated soil, in an attempt to avoid being harshly impacted by uncooperative weather. Still, the reality is that many who grow maize do so on dry land without the protection of irrigation systems.  These are the individuals whom the droughts impact most profoundly. In Colorado, irrigation systems and water diversion through the mountains were established with tremendous foresight a century ago.

Numerous factors must be considered prior to an attempt to grow maize. Climate conditions are just one aspect of these many considerations. Crop size, intended harvest share, budget for equipment and labor, and the preparation and location of the land all weigh significantly.

For example, corn plant spacing for 300 bushel-per-acre corn crops requires 45,000 plants-per-acre in 30 inch row spacing. This essentially means that twin rows are necessary, using the right hybrids. A favorable result with this equation can be tougher to accomplish in the Midwest where summers are often hotter.

In Minnesota, where summers are cooler and growing season is shortened, narrower rows have been used to streamline operational costs. 20 to 22 inch row spacing allows farmers who grow maize to share the same equipment they use for planting sugarbeets and soy beans. Since the narrower margins allow for an accelerated canopy effect, this also minimizes weed growth later in the season, and therefore allows a reduction in herbicide use.

The expense of equipment is no small consideration. Items including a corn harvester combine, tractors, as well as seeding and tillage equipment all rank as essential when anticipating the successful production of a large crop.

Chemicals and soil treatment must be accounted for additionally. Starter fertilizers, nitrogen-based agricultural soil treatments, herbicides, and insecticides are also necessities that complement the right seed selection.

Ultimately, the decision to grow maize is a costly and complex scientific undertaking. While modernized equipment and pest-resistant hybrids can make the potential harvest lucrative, this remains a risky endeavor.

Written by Staff Writer

August 2012

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