For Lincoln Hughes, the move to narrow-row corn began during the drought of 2011 when parched yields on his farm near Nevada, Mo., were yielding 5 bushels per acre.
“A neighbor was harvesting one of our fields for silage and I grabbed a shovel and started looking at roots,” Hughes says. “In the middle of the 30-inch rows was moisture, and that made me start thinking about narrow-row corn.
“It didn’t happen overnight. I visited with some growers in Missouri and Tennessee who have similar land and growing conditions as mine. I also spoke with some Minnesota farmers who are moving to narrower rows to take advantage of light in the northern areas of the country,” he explains.
“It took some thinking and a season or two to even consider it, but finally I planted 500 acres on 15-inch rows and made arrangements with Marion Calmer of Calmer Corn Heads to rent one of his row-independent corn heads to harvest it.”
Hughes says the first thing he noticed was the stalk diameter on the narrow-row corn was about twice as big as in 30-inch corn, and the ground beneath the plants was completely shaded, which made it easier to control weeds.
“Also, a buddy of mine has an infrared thermometer, and with it on a 100-plus degree day, the temperature in 30-inch corn was 96 degrees. When we checked adjacent rows on 15-inch spacing, the temperature was 89 degrees,” he explains.
“We watched it all year long and when we started picking, nothing beat our 15-inch corn until we got into irrigated land or river bottoms,” Hughes says.
Hughes’s father grows 30-inch corn and uses 15 different hybrids and fertilizer rates on a neighboring farm.
“He got 240 bushels per acre under a pivot. On my side of the road, with comparable management, I got 270 bushels under irrigation with 15-inch rows.”
“Watching the crops throughout the season it was deceiving,” he says. “But the combine showed in every field our 15-inch corn was the best. My yields ranged from 7-30 bushels higher than my dad’s.”
This year, Hughes has 700 acres in 15-inch corn in a comparison with 30-inch fields.
“Whichever is best, we’ll go that route on all of the farm next year and that’s 4,000 acres,” he says. As of June, he says the 15-inch fields were “by far” his best looking corn.
Hughes is one of many growers looking at narrow-row management for corn, particularly as research across the country shows consistent yield advantages to the practice, along with the machinery efficiencies that can occur if corn and soybeans can be planted on the same spacing.
Difficulties arise on many farms, however, when traditional harvesting equipment calls for 30-inch corn rows, and farmers begin planting rows ranging from 12-24 inches to take advantage of early-season canopy cover and weed control, improved use of soil moisture and increased leaf exposure to sunlight.
The solution? Corn heads that can efficiently harvest standing corn stalks that are not necessarily perfectly-centered or aligned with the row units — or “row independent” corn heads. Currently, a few manufacturers are building heads specifically designed to operate in narrow and ultra-narrow-row corn fields, and another offers a conventional design that has shown its ability to harvest corn from any direction.
This 32-row, 15-inch corn head from Calmer Corn Heads is one of many models the company builds for row independent harvesting in configurations from 12-30-inch spacing. Calmer also offers row-independent heads under rental agreements.
Calmer Corn Heads. Western Illinois farmer, inventor and manufacturer Marion Calmer introduced his 15-inch, row-independent corn head in 1995, and has been manufacturing the narrow-row heads for 15 years. Today, his lineup includes 12-, 15-, 20- and 30-inch corn heads, all equipped standard with BT Choppers, Low-Trash Combo Stripper Plates, Stainless Steel Back Wall and Tray, 18-inch/26-pitch auger, 1.25-inch hex drivelines, heavy duty telescoping PTO shafts, 80 HD chain and oil-bath sprockets, universal feeder house, realignment package and extra parts.
Additional cost options available for all heads from Calmer include: hydraulic plates, auto header height/tilt and auto guidance.
Calmer says interest in narrow-row corn is growing across the country for “anyone interested in increasing corn yields by 5% on average.” Also, the harvesters are good for anyone with downed corn.
“We’ve been able to harvest in anything for 20 years because we can approach the corn from any angle,” he explains.
Nick Bustos, marketing manager for Calmer Corn Heads, offered the following prices for Calmer heads:
- 12-inch row independent non-chopping: $6,500 per row (up to 40 rows)
- 15-inch row independent non-chopping: $6,000 per row (up to 32 rows)
- 15-inch row independent chopping: $7,500 per row (up to 32 rows)
- 20-inch row independent non-chopping: $6,500 per row (up to 24 rows)
- 20-inch row independent chopping: $8,000 per row (up to 24 rows)
- 30-inch non-chopping: $7,000 per row (up to 18 rows)
- 30-inch chopping: $8,500 per row (up to 18 rows)
“Calmer Corn Heads also has 12-, 15-, 20- and 30-inch demo heads, equipped with our latest products that farmers can use to test in the field, free of charge, and we offer a rental agreement for customers at a cheaper rate than purchase,” he explains.
“Ultimately, the farmer has to believe he’ll make money with the narrower rows and row-independent heads,” says Calmer. “People who really like it are the folks who chop for silage. They pick up 10% more tonnage — which makes the practice pretty popular.
“Narrow rows are also gaining popularity in hilly country because it helps prevent erosion, and it’s becoming more popular with growers with hard-to-control weeds because of the faster canopy of narrower-rows,” he adds.
After 2014 tests in fields with various narrow-row corn spacing in the Kansas City area, the Mainero MDD-100 is currently in its first year of sales in the U.S. by Hood & Co.
Mainero. This growing season is the first for commercial sales of Argentina’s Mainero row-independent corn heads in the U.S., says Steve Hood of Hood & Co., a U.S. representative for Grain Bags Canada, the importer of Mainero equipment for use in the U.S.
The Mainero MDD-100 head features row units designed to harvest any row spacing in any direction, says Hood.
“Mainero has been building corn heads for 65 years and has been working on the patent-pending row-independent design for 5 years,” he explains. “It’s been introduced in South America and now we’re selling it in North America. We ran one last fall south and east of the Kansas City area as a demonstrator, and now we’re actively selling the machines.”
The MDD-100 carries a retail list price of $99,137 for a 24.5-foot working width and $144,000 for a 35-foot width. The prices include all hardware, header mount, hydraulic header control, etc. “Overall, when you consider the row units involved, the prices are comparable to a typical John Deere or Case IH 30-inch 10-row head,” Hood says.
The Quasar corn head by Cappello USA has been used in narrow and ultra-narrow-row corn applications, despite its original design as a conventional 30-inch harvester. The machine has been shown to be capable of harvesting corn from any direction in a variety of row spacings.
Capello. While not specifically designed for narrow-row or ultra-narrow-row corn harvest, the Italian-designed Capello Quasar corn head’s design can handle row spacing it wasn’t really designed for, says Jerod Johnson, director of WTP Implements Division (Worthington Tractor Parts) and Capello USA, in Sioux Falls, S.D.
“The design elements related to its poly and idler sprocket shape and strength, and the overall profile of the machine allow it to function well in any row spacing from any direction,” he says, noting documented successes harvesting 15-inch corn last January in Wisconsin with a standard 8-row, 30-inch Quasar.
Kelsey Jablonsky, WTP customer service manager, says the Capello Quasar is priced as follows:
- Rigid 8-row 30-inch chopping, $82,700
- Rigid 8-row 30-inch non-chopping, $67,500
- Rigid 12-row 30-inch chopping, $121,000
- Rigid 12-row 30-inch non-chopping, $98,900
- Folding 12-row 30-inch chopping, $138,800
- Folding 12-row 30-inch non-chopping, $116,700