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Soil Requirements for Growing Corn

Farming has to be a paying proposition — that is, the farmer has to be paid a fair profit as are other segments of the economy. Until such changes come about, one way to “beat the system” is to grow higher quality crops with less dollar input.

Crops that command premium prices on the market, or when fed to your animals, produce healthy, high-producing animals. Believe it or not, many of our current methods of growing crops will nearly always produce poor quality “foodless food.” We use fertilizers and other agricultural chemicals that kill the life in the soil, which if allowed to live would help us grow good food. Soil becomes hard and tight—sterile. Weed and pest problems grow worse.

What can you do? You can begin to put your soil back into good condition by stopping harmful practices and starting right ones. You can grow top quality corn.

So you want to grow top quality corn. Where do you begin?

Corn Soil Needs

The very most basic thing for growing really good crops is good soil. Soil that is not only high in fertility, but is alive with beneficial organisms. The ideal soil for growing corn is deep (six or more feet), medium-textured and loose, well-drained, high in water-holding capacity and organic matter, and able to supply all the nutrients the plant needs. Of course, not everyone has the per­fect soil, and corn isn’t so fussy that it can’t do well on less than ideal soil. But I will show you how to build up your soil so that you can grow much better corn. 

Corn Climate Needs

Corn does best with warm, sunny growing weather (75–86° F), well-distributed intermittent moderate rains, or irriga­tion (15 or more inches during the growing season), and 130 or more frost-free days. The U.S. corn belt has these soil and climatic conditions.

Corn Humus Needs

Even if the weather isn’t ideal, a good, living soil with high humus content will often make the difference between a good crop and disaster, for humus allows soil to soak up considerable moisture and hold it for dry periods. It is often the case that one farmer who has been building up his soil will have lush, green crops in a drought year, while his neighbor’s crops have burned up.

Soil Parts Required for Good Corn

An average, good soil should contain nearly one-half mineral particles, one-fourth water, one-fourth air, and a few percent organic matter. The minerals supply and hold some nutri­ents and give bulk to the soil. Water is necessary for plant growth and for the soil organisms, but not too much or too little. Air (oxy­gen) is needed by roots and beneficial soil organisms. Organic mat­ter (humus and the living organisms that produce it) is a storehouse of certain nutrients, holds water, gives soil a loose crumbly texture, reduces erosion, buffers and detoxifies soil, and even helps protect plants from diseases and pests because of antibiotics and inhibitors produced by beneficial bacteria and fungi. Some of these friendly microbes also produce plant growth stimulators, others help feed nutrients directly to roots, and others trap (fix) nitrogen from the air—free fertilizer.

Corn cob on the stalk

But things can go wrong. If the soil is short of air from water­logging, low humus, compaction, or crusting, roots will suffocate or be “stunned,” and the “bad guys,” anaerobic bacteria, will take over and release nitrogen (denitrification) and produce several tox­ic substances, such as hydrogen sulfide, ammonia, aldehydes, and alcohols, when they decompose organic matter. Tight and wet soils are one of today’s worst enemies of good quality crops.

Corn Soil Nutrients

To be healthy and produce excellent crops, a grow­ing plant needs an adequate and balanced supply of over a dozen nutrients, mostly coming from the soil. Some are needed in larger amounts (the major nutrients: nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, calcium), while others are needed in smaller amounts (the sec­ondary and trace elements: magnesium, sulfur, iron, copper, zinc, manganese, boron, molybdenum, and chlorine). These plus car­bon, hydrogen, and oxygen from the air and water are put together by the plant to form carbohydrates (sugars, starches, cellulose), fats, proteins, vitamins, and other miscellaneous products. Photo­synthesis (powered by the sun’s energy) and other metabolic proc­esses accomplish these feats.

In a living, well aerated, fertile soil, the minerals, humus, and microorganisms should supply all of the plant’s needs if there are no stresses from weather.

This article is an excerpt from the book How to Grow Top Quality Corn by Dr. Harold Willis.