July 17, 2012 Field Crops 28.49 - 105
   

What Worked, What Didn't Work During the Drought of 1988?

Joe Lauer, Corn Agronomist

As we begin to evaluate the success of corn pollination during the 2012 drought, it might be useful to alsoevaluate which management decisions were most beneficial during this growing season. Although a season like 2012 is rare and extreme, it will likely happen again. Taking some time now to evaluate your management decisions might help during a future growing season.

Our last major drought year was 1988. There were numerous experiments established around the state by Dr. Paul Carter. Below I summarize his results for a number of management decisions that were important at the time including hybrid selection, plant density, date of planting, tillage and rotation decisions. Thequestionis, "How do these decisions affect grain yield during a drought growing season?"

Hybrid performance

Hybrid performance was lower than the previous 10-yr average at 8 of 11 locations (Table 1). No grain yield was harvested at Chippewa Falls. Three locations, Galesville, Hancock (irrigated) and New London, had greater yields than the average of the previous 10-years. All other locations had 18 to 51% lower yields with Lancaster significantly lower than normal. Harvest grain moisture averaged 18.7% to 24.7% among the trials. Plant lodging was less than 6% at all locations. At 9 of 11 locations, the maximum yielding hybrid was better than the 10-year average.

Table 1. 1988 Wisconsin Corn Performance TrialsSummary.
1978-1987   1988 Percent   Max Min
Location N Yield   N Yield change   Yield Yield
Arlington 756 185   166 131 -29   175 84
Janesville 706 184   166 151 -18   186 104
Lancaster 706 146   166 71 -51   111 35
Fond du Lac 718 138   151 114 -17   151 71
Galesville 718 157   151 162 3   217 104
Hancock 719 170   151 198 16   236 166
Chippewa Falls 510 141   --- --- ---   --- ---
Marshfield 510 125   126 99 -21   127 58
New London/Waupaca 514 152   126 172 13   195 113
White Lake 54 135   58 94 -30   111 64
Spooner 534 115   116 87 -24   145 34
Yield= bushels per acre
N= number of hybrids tested
Percent change= the yield during 1988 compared to the average yield of the previous 10 years

Plant density

The plant density which produces maximum yield has been increasing over time, but what happens during a growing season with drought? During 1988, a plant density experiment was established at nine locations with target densities of 18,000; 24,000; 30,000 and 36,000 plants per acre. At 7 of 9 locations, grain yield either increased or was not affected as plant density increased (Table 2). At Lancaster, grain yield decreased 16 bu/A from low to high plant density, while at Spooner grain yield decreased 27 bu/A. So even during drought years when a response to plant density is not expected, higher plant densities were only detrimental at two locations. The best recommendation would be to manage for potential yield with higher plant density because the only risk for return on investment is minor seed costs.

Table 2. Grain yield (bu/A) of corn planted at target plant densities of 18000, 24000, 30000 and 36000 plants/A at various locations in Wisconsin during 1988.
Actual Harvest Plant Density (plants/A)
Location 18100-20500 22500-24100 28600-29900 33300-36800 LSD(0.10)
Grain yield (bushels/A)
Janesville 125 133 137 139 7
Lancaster 64 62 50 48 9
Fond du Lac 109 112 118 108 NS
Hancock 160 175 193 188 9
Galesville 133 163 172 174 9
Chippewa Falls 39 34 32 20 NS
Marshfield 88 87 89 85 NS
New London 109 112 118 108 NS
Spooner * 78 71 66 51 11
* At Spooner target plant density was lower and resulted in harvest densities of 15900, 18600, 22000, and 24500.

Date of planting

Earlier planting dates are typically recommended for avoiding drought growing conditions. However, during 1988 the planting dates of May 13 and May 18 were higher yielding than earlier planting dates (Table 3). Some of the better performance of later planting dates has to do with timing of when drought (heat and water stress) occurs during the life cycle of the corn plant. Another interaction is the distribution of rainfall during the growing season.

Table 3. Grain yield (bu/A) response to planting date during 1988 at Arlington, WI.
Experiment 1 Experiment 2
Planting date Grain yield (bu/A) Planting date Grain yield (bu/A)
April 18 59 April 27 67
May 13 63 May 26 84
LSD(0.10) NS LSD(0.10) 8

Tillage

During the 1980s, no tillage was becoming popular as a management practice. Usually due to cool, wet soils corn often experience "slow growth syndrome" and yielded lower thanconventionallytilled fields. During 1988, there were no differences between no-till and conventional-till in six experiments conducted at Janesville and Arlington (Table 4).

Table 4. Corn grain yield (bu/A) response to tillage during 1988 at Arlington and Janesville, WI.
Location Conventional tillage No tillage LSD(0.10)
Arlington-Experiment 1 62 64 NS
Arlington-Experiment 2 83 69 NS
Arlington-CS rotation 75 77 NS
Arlington-CSW rotation 70 72 NS
Janesville-Experiment 1 117 112 NS
Janesville-Experiment 2 117 109 NS

Rotation

Rotation is probably the easiest management decision we have available to get "free" yield. During drought (stress) years it is even more important. Rotated corn increased grain yield 16 to 36 bu/A (29 to 59%) over continuous corn grain yield.

Table 5. Corn grain yield (bu/A) response to crop rotation during 1988 at Arlington, WI.
Rotation Grain yield (bu/A)
Continuous corn 61 56
Corn-Soybean 97 82
Corn-Soybean-Wheat -- 72
LSD(0.10) 16 15

University of Wisconsin, 1575 Linden Drive - Agronomy, Madison WI  53706    (608) 262-1390
If you would like to subscribe (or unsubscribe) to updates during the growing season, click here.
For a list of website updates, click here. Send comments about this website to Joe Lauer.
©  1994-2017 Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin, Division of Cooperative Extension of UWEX.