Farmers who want to produce 300-bushel corn could learn something from cyclist Lance Armstrong, says North Carolina State University Extension corn specialist Ron Heiniger.

“Why in the world would Lance Armstrong take the risk of doing something illegal against all the accomplishments he had?” Heiniger queried at the 44th annual Blackland Farm Managers Tour held Aug. 6 at the Tidewater Research and Extension Center in Plymouth.

“The reason cyclists use performance enhancing drugs is that you need more red blood cells to transmit oxygen to the muscle and that oxygen is needed for burning calories to produce the power that those men and women need to get up that hill and win that race,” Heiniger says.

And the same is true about corn, he adds. “What are the red blood cells in corn that we need to win this race to get 300-bushel yields? Those red blood cells are chlorophyll. We need the plant to have lots of chlorophyll. It is the energy producing mechanism of that plant. How do we make more chlorophyll? The simple answer is we need nitrogen because nitrogen is a critical component of that molecule.”

Heiniger encourages farmers to remember this as they consider options to reach the goal of producing 300 bushels per acre of corn. “Thinking about producing bushel corn is a useful exercise because it gets you to think about how you might do things differently,” Heiniger says.

To achieve 300 bushels per acre corn, Heiniger says farmers must capture the maximum amount of light for the maximum amount of time. In addition to managing nitrogen, water management is vital for achieving top yields. “These three, light, water and nitrogen are critical for achieving top yields,” Heiniger says.

Hybrid selection is also vital. Heiniger says many farmers should select hybrids that produce longer ears with more rows per ear, which he calls “offensive hybrids.”

“We have to get that corn off to a good start. You want it to canopy as soon as possible,” Heiniger says. “The faster you get it to canopy, the faster you’re capturing all of the light you can capture. You need to capture more light over a longer period of time, which is the first principle of making higher yields.”

Healthy root development is also vital for making yields which can be achieved by using starter fertilizers, according to Heiniger. “Early growth is important to help that corn compete against weeds,” Heiniger says.

The impression that corn doesn’t compete very well against weeds is a false one. “Corn has been bred over time to compete very effectively with weeds, but unfortunately that breeding has also produced a plant that competes very effectively with itself.  And that’s part of the reason we need to be careful about how we plant and get corn to emerge,” Heiniger says.

Another key is to get high fertility coming into the planting of the crop. “Nitrogen is what is going to be required to make it up those hills and to finish the race first and win the Tour de France,” Heiniger says.