Band applications of fertilizer could be music to a corn grower’s ears based on a University of Illinois agronomy study.

Scott Foxhaven, a doctoral agronomy student, recently shared results of a study comparing band and broadcast fertilizer applications with three corn plant populations.

Fred Below, plant physiology professor and Foxhaven’s adviser, reminded a farmer audience that corn yields are a function of plants per acre, kernels per plant or weight per kernel. “Change any one of these and you will increase yields. You have the most control over plant population,” Below said.

Foxhaven added banded fertility could reduce nutrient losses and not require installation of remediation practices. His study involved dry banding fertilizer 4 to 6 inches deep with a toolbar and planting directly over the band. He also broadcast fertilizer. Both practices were used with plant populations of 30,000; 36,000; and 42,000.

“I had a massive growth response with banding,” Foxhaven said. On the broadcast plots, some plants “got left behind.”

On the band-application plots, the researcher also noted early emergence in 24 days and more leaves on emerged plants.

Across 10 hybrids planted at three different populations, Foxhaven reported a 12-bushel advantage with higher populations and band applications compared to broadcast applications. However, higher-population yields also increased on broadcast plots.

“Not all hybrids are equal,” Foxhaven said.

“Some are small rooted, and some have large roots. Some hybrids with large roots don’t need as much fertility.” Band applications of phosphorus and nitrogen under small-rooted hybrids will result in higher yields, he added.

Fertilizer practices and row width are key to getting the most from corn with different root sizes, according to Below.

“The future of corn is narrow rows,” the professor said. “You can manage higher populations, and the plants have breathing room. As you plant more, what happens to the roots? It’s a smaller root system.

“Will smaller roots change how you manage the crop? Yes, you’ll have to do a better job,” he said.