Date of this Version
In a 2-yr multiple-site field study conducted in western Nebraska during 1999 and 2000, optimum dryland corn (Zea mays L.) population varied from less than 1.7 to more than 5.6 plants m-2, depending largely on available water resources. The objective of this study was to use a modeling approach to investigate corn population recommendations for a wide range of seasonal variation. A corn growth simulation model (APSIM-maize) was coupled to long-term sequences of historical climatic data from western Nebraska to provide probabilistic estimates of dryland yield for a range of corn populations. Simulated populations ranged from 2 to 5 plants m-2. Simulations began with one of three levels of available soil water at planting, either 80, 160, or 240 mm in the surface 1.5 m of a loam soil. Gross margins were maximized at 3 plants m-2 when starting available water was 160 or 240 mm, and the expected probability of a financial loss at this population was reduced from about 10% at 160 mm to 0% at 240 mm. When starting available water was 80 mm, average gross margins were less than $15 ha-1, and risk of financial loss exceeded 40%. Median yields were greatest when starting available soil water was 240 mm. However, perhaps the greater benefit of additional soil water at planting was reduction in the risk of making a financial loss. Dryland corn growers in western Nebraska are advised to use a population of 3 plants m-2 as a base recommendation.