Many grain farmers in the arid central Great Plains should skip planting every one or two rows to stabilize corn yields.
This recommendation stems from a 3-year study with corn in 23 field trials across Nebraska and into western Kansas and northeast Colorado. Merle Vigil, a soil scientist at the ARS Central Great Plains Research Station in Akron, Colorado, participated in the study with 13 university and extension researchers.
“Plant two-skip two” stabilizes yields the most in the driest years and should be considered the best scheme during extreme drought. But “plant one-skip one” resulted in the highest mean yield of all planting systems tested, over average weather conditions, and many times exceeded both the standard technique and “plant two-skip two.” Vigil had similar results with sorghum.
For many farmers, in a climate that goes from dry to drier, the range of possible grain yields is too large and unpredictable with standard spacing. The skip-row technique narrows the range of yields, cutting off the lowest yields as well as the highest. The narrower the range of yields, the more stable they are and the less risk involved.
Skipping a row or two allows some of the soil water accumulated between crop rows to remain as a reserve for when the crop needs it later. For corn, it provides water during the critical flowering period.
Early in the corn-growing season, roots easily reach and deplete water that is about 30 inches away, between rows, but they can’t as easily deplete water farther away.
Vigil says, “The benefits of skip-row planting should be considered by all dryland corn growers in the central Great Plains west of 101 degrees longitude, except for those with potential for more than 100 bushels an acre.
“More specifically,” he says, “farmers with field histories of 75 bushels or less could choose either ‘plant two-skip two’ or ‘plant one-skip one.’ Those with yield potential between 75 and 100 bushels an acre may not see a benefit from skip-row planting.”—By Don Comis, Agricultural Research Service Information Staff.
"“Skip Planting a Row or Two” Is Good Advice for Some" was published in the April 2010 issue of Agricultural Research magazine.