Submitted to: Field Crops Research
Publication Type: Peer reviewed journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 12/31/2011
Publication Date: 12/15/2011
Citation: Williams, M.M. II. 2011. Agronomics and economics of plant population density on processing sweet corn. Field Crops Research. 128:55-61. Interpretive Summary: Sweet corn is one of the most popular vegetable crops in the U.S. and a majority of it is grown for processing into canned or frozen product. Determining plant population density for optimal crop growth and yield is a critical decision in crop production; however, practitioners have no research-based information to support this decision in sweet corn. From this work, plant population densities that maximized profits to the grower and vegetable processor were identified. By comparing results of field experiments to on-farm surveys, it was learned that grower profit could be improved if higher plant populations were used with certain hybrids. The impact of this work is that it provides sweet corn growers and vegetable processors the first research-based analysis of a critical crop production decision, that is, determing the best population density for the crop. In addition, the research shows the sweet corn seed industry that targeted breeding efforts could improve the yield potential of sweet corn.
Technical Abstract: A detailed analysis of the effect of plant population density on processing sweet corn is lacking in the peer-reviewed literature. Therefore, field experiments were conducted utilizing six hybrids commonly grown in the North Central Region (NCR), a primary production region of processing sweet corn in North America. The objectives were to: 1) quantify the effects of plant population density and commercial hybrid on sweet corn growth, development, ear traits, and yield, 2) determine plant population densities for maximum yield for growers and maximum gross profit margin for processors, and 3) compare plant population densities for maximum yield and maximum gross profit margin to population densities observed in processing sweet corn fields throughout the NCR. Increasing population density from 43,000 to 86,000 plants ha-1 increased the crop’s ability to intercept light, increased length of the vegetative period, decreased ear length, and perhaps most importantly, decreased recovery – the percent of kernel mass represented in green ear mass. In addition to variable growth responses among hybrids, plant populations for optimal yield also varied among hybrids; averaging 50,000 plants ha-1 in a poorer yielding hybrid (average maximum yield of 15.3 Mt ha-1) to 64,500 plants ha-1 in a higher yielding hybrid (average maximum yield of 20.0 Mt ha-1). Based on surveys of growers’ fields throughout the NCR, plant population densities average 56,000 plants ha-1, which is consistent with the average plant population density for optimal gross profit margin for processors ($9,741 ha-1). Growers could realize higher yields and profit if higher plant populations were used with certain hybrids.