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Penn State Organic Corn Variety Trial

Posted: January 20, 2011

Organic production is one of the fastest growing segments of U.S. agriculture. Certified organic production provides farmers a way to lower input costs, decrease reliance on nonrenewable resources, capture high-value markets and premium prices, and boost farm income. At Penn State’s Russell E. Larson Research Center at Rock Springs, PA, research on organic crop production is being conducted to support those growers who are already organic, considering transitioning to organic, or interested in reducing the use of synthetic inputs on their farms. During the 2010 growing season, a short-season organic corn variety trial was conducted at Rock Springs, Centre Co., on certified organic land, and on conventionally managed land at Rock Springs and the Southeast Ag Research and Extension Center in Landisville, Lancaster Co.
Average yields from our short season organic corn variety trial on certified organic land at Rock Springs, PA were 169 bu/ac.  Photo by Mary Barbercheck

Average yields from our short season organic corn variety trial on certified organic land at Rock Springs, PA were 169 bu/ac. Photo by Mary Barbercheck

We tested 10 organic corn varieties for their performance in organic and conventional systems. The organic test was managed by Dave Sandy and Matt Ryan, PSU Dept. of Crop and Soil Sciences, as part of a research program on reducing tillage in organic crop production systems. All varieties were either organic or non-treated, non-GMO varieties.  The conventionally managed tests were conducted by Jim Breining and John Shaffer, as part of 2010 Pennsylvania Commercial Hybrid Corn Test (http://cornandsoybeans.psu.edu/hybrideval.cfm).

One of the challenges to incorporating and taking advantage of the numerous benefits of cover crops following corn grain production in central PA is the short season length.  The focus was on short-season varieties to determine whether there are varieties that will mature early enough under central Pennsylvania conditions to allow the planting and establishment of winter-hardy cover crops after corn grain harvest. The corn, with varieties ranging from 80 to 95 in days to maturity, was planted at the organically managed Rock Springs site on June 2, 2010, at the conventionally managed, no-till Rock Springs site on May 21, 2010, and at the Landisville site (conventional, no-till) on April 20, 2010. Corn grain was harvested on November 12, October 22, and October 6, 2010, from the organically managed Rock Springs site, and conventionally managed Rock Springs, and Landisville sites, respectively. Blind tillage and interrow cultivation was used to control weeds at the organic site, and herbicides were used at the conventional sites.  Average yields, corrected to reflect weight at 15.5% moisture, ranged from 80-198 bu/ac among all varieties. Yields tended to be highest at the organic Rock Springs site (average: 169 bu/ac), lowest at the Landisville site (average: 124 bu/ac), and intermediate at the convention Rock Springs site (average: 143 bu/ac; Table 1). The most consistent, high-yielding organic corn variety was ‘Blue River 19K19’ (average: 166 bu/ac among all sites). This variety is one of the earlier maturing varieties of those tested (84 day), which is interesting because earlier maturing varieties tend to have lower yields than later maturing varieties. In fact, days to maturity was a poor predictor of yield, as yields were not correlated with days to maturity, and were not different among days to maturity groups (80-85, 86-90, and 91-95 days).

Among agronomists, there is general consensus that in 2010, early planted corn did not do as well as later planted corn because of low rainfall in June which likely impacted pollination and ear development and fill.  This is in contrast to 2009 which was wet and did not impact pollination, but did delay maturity and timely harvest. Results from across Pennsylvania showed that corn yields in 2009 were lower and some later planted corn didn’t reach maturity before the cool, wet autumn.  Although weather patterns vary from year to year, our results are encouraging, and suggest good potential for short-season corn varieties.

Table 1. Average (± standard error) yields and percentage moisture at harvest from organic corn variety trials managed organically on certified organic land at Rock Springs (Centre Co.), PA, and conventionally on non-organic land at Rock Springs and Landisville (Lancaster Co.), PA. Yields have been standardized to 15% moisture.

 

Rock Springs
(Organic)

Rock Springs
(Conventional, No-till)

Landisville
(Conventional, No-till)

Variety

Yield
(bu/ac)

Moisture
(%)

Yield
(bu/ac)

Moisture
(%)

Yield
(bu/ac)

Moisture
(%)

Viking 0.89-80N
(80 day)

151

(±1.9)

17.5

(±0.5)

143

(±1.2)

16.6

(±0.6)

120

(±8.5)

16.9

(±0.2)

Masters Choice OG-463
(83 day)

171

(±5.7)

17.8

(±0.2)

151

(±9.8)

16.1

(±0.1)

81

(±10.8)

16.7

(±0.1)

Blue River 19K19
(84 day)

175

(±3.0)

16.1

(±0.2)

169

(±8.8)

17.4

(±0.4)

151

(±12.8)

16.7

(±0.1)

American Organic B916
(86 day)

149

(±7.2)

21.4

(±0.4)

124

(±11.8)

18.7

(±0.4)

198

(±7.9)

17.9

(±0.3)

Blue River 25A16
(87 day)

184

(±7.2)

18.4

(±0.2)

131

(±5.6)

16.5

(±0.4)

84

(±11.5)

16.8

(±0.1)

Doeblers UT333X
(89 day)

183

(±7.2)

19.1

(±0.3)

149

(±6.33)

20.5

(±0.1)

123

(±15.0)

16.7

(±0.1)

Blue River 30A12
(90 day)

186

(±3.8)

18.5

(±0.2)

150

(±3.5)

16.9

(±0.3)

130

(±18.6)

16.9

(±0.1)

Viking 0.39-94N
(94 day)

169

(±9.7)

22.1

(±0.7)

155

(±4.7)

19.0

(±0.5)

133

(±3.1)

17.2

(±0.1)

Blue River 36K71
(95 day)

170

(±8.1)

19.1

(±0.5)

158

(±1.8)

16.8

(±0.3)

141

(±5.4)

16.7

(±0.2)

Viking 0.7292
(95 day)

149

(±2.8)

17.1

(±0.3)

102

(±9.9)

16.1

(±0.2)

80

(±13.5)

17.4

(±0.1)

Site Average

169 (±3.0)

18.7 (±0.3)

143 (±3.9)

17.5 (±0.3)

124 (±7.1)

17.0 (±0.1)

 

By Mark Dempsey and Meagan Schipanski, PSU Dept. of Crop and Soil Science, Mary Barbercheck, PSU Dept. of Entomology

For more information: Contact Matt Ryan, PSU Dept. of Crop and Soil Sciences, mrr203@psu.edu.