There is a lot of the talk around the corner table of the Chat 'n Chew Café (recently re-opened after a lengthy renovation period) about the possible effects of El Niño on the 1998 growing season in Indiana. It seems that a few of the guys believe that a major drought will occur this coming summer and that we ought to plan accordingly. Their suggestions include an intentional reduction in seeding rate of the corn, the idea being that a thinner stand will better tolerate the stressful conditions of a major drought. Is this a wise idea or not?
Because there is not a clear concensus among weather forecasters about the effects of El Niño on the weather in Indiana, corn producers probably should not make drastic changes in their typical crop inputs for the 1998 growing season. Someone once said that "If you plan to fail, you will." That is sort of the way it is with seeding rates in corn.
For most soils and productivity levels in Indiana, optimum grain yields will occur with final plant populations between 26 - 30,000 plants per acre. Such final populations translate to seeding rates of 29 - 33,000 kernels per acre (assuming 95 % germination and 95% survival of emerged seedlings).
Where grain yields frequently come in only at 100 - 125 bushels per acre or less, then the optimum final populations drop to between 18 - 24,000 plants per acre. Seeding rates of 20 - 27,000 kernels per acres would be required for such final stands.
Today's hybrids have an inherent ability to better tolerate the effects of prolonged dry periods than the hybrids of years ago. Unless you feel extremely confident in the predictions of your favorite meteorologist, I suggest you base your seeding rate decisions on the historical yield levels of the fields that will be planted to corn in 1998.