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The Best Environment For Corn

This article is co-authored by Alvin Cariho, a district agronomist of Pioneer Hi-Bred Philippines based in Nueva Ecija.

The past several seasons was quite challenging for corn farmers. Besides the depressed grain price, which depressed many people’s emotional well-being, our climate has also been unpredictable, leading to crop failure, low yields and plenty of postharvest woes.

As a result, Pioneer agronomists were approached by many concerned growers on so many issues: from drought-related problems, extended storage, to grain price monitoring.

Issues like these that are being brought to our attention are actually a given in the industry, but, the past several years are a bit different. There are more progressive corn growers now, there are more corn areas now, more corn grown in more stressful environments, and more frequent abnormal weather.

I have experienced several wet seasons that are in fact dry and dry seasons that are cooler than normal and with lots of rain. Like others, I felt confused also with the seasons. If you happen to visit some parts of southern Mindanao last December, farmers have been suffering the agony of seeing their plants wilting due to severe lack of rains. Locals in the area are normally used to the wet and very wet conditions of Mindanao but this isn’t true now at least for the past season. In Isabela, planting went on as scheduled in November but a lull in precipitation happened weeks after effectively putting to a halt all plantings. Now, late plantings may face the prospect of minimal rains going into the summer months of February, March, and April. I hope the rains don’t come early so people can still dry their grains.

With all the talk about climate change or global warming, I thought of writing something about climate in connection to our crop of interest. I am no expert on climate, but I can share a few things to our farmers.

What climatic conditions would help drive yields to better levels? What cropping strategy is effective? Am I farming in a place where corn yields are limited by something? These are some questions we will try to answer. But first let me share a few thoughts about our country’s climate.

THE BIOPHYSICAL ENVIRONMENT
Among the main factors. to be considered in corn production is the biophysical environment of a place which includes rainfall, temperature, and type of soil. Temperature in a tropical country like ours doesn’t really fluctuate because of our latitudinal location. However, temperature can be significantly lowered with altitude as in the case of elevated cities or provinces like Baguio or Bukidnon. For our discussion, we will limit ourselves on rainfall as it is the most important climatic element in the Philippines. Its distribution throughout the country varies from one region to another, depending upon the direction of the moisture-bearing winds and the location of the mountain systems.

The Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) had reported that the mean annual rainfall of the country ranged from 965 to 4,064 millimeters annually. Baguio City and the eastern section of the country like Samar and Surigao receive the greatest amount of rainfall, while the southern portion the country like General Santos City receives the least (978 mm).

Climate Type

Corn Areas

Description

Management

I

Ilocos Region, CentralLuzon, and Occidental Mindoro Two pronounced season: dry from November to April and wet for the rest of the year. Rice is grown during wet season and followed by corn planting supported by residual soil moisture and supplementary irrigation, if sowing is timed properly which is commonly done in October to November. Farmers who plant corn earlier  September) risk flooding from the tail end of the rainy season may opt to plant in the off-season (February-March) using corn with shorter maturity and better drought ratings prior to the wet season provided irrigation water is still sufficient.

II

Bicol Region, Eastern Visayas, and Eastern Mindanao No dry season with a very pronounced rainfall from November to January. Rainfall can support two to three corn crops per year. More challenges from seedling up to harvesting to storage of corn produce. Typhoons pose a significant risk to farmers; they may lose their standing crops to around five to eight typhoons that visit these areas each year. Hybrids with strong roots and stalks are preferred.

III

Cagayan Valley, Northern Panay, and North and Central Mindanao Seasons are not very pronounced; relatively dry from November to April and wet during the rest of the year. Farmers may plant three crops a year because of good rainfall. A wetter period for the second and third crops, with >200 mm mean monthly rainfall throughout these two growing seasons. Except for North and Central Mindanao, typhoons also visit these areas, particularly from June to October where flooding in the low-lying areas and strong winds are expected. Hybrids with good roots and stalks and excellent disease tolerance should be considered.

IV

South Mindanao, Davao provinces, parts of Bicol, and Central and Eastern Visayas Rainfall is more or less distributed throughout the year. Even rainfall distribution allows two to three crops of corn cropping, followed by a short dry season. Tropical storms are a low risk factor particularly in Mindanao. Hybrids with good roots and stalks and disease tolerance are preferred.

THE WET SEASON AND DRY SEASON
Our climate is divided into just two major seasons: the rainy season which runs from June to November and the dry season, from December to May. The dry season is subdivided further into the cool dry season, from December to February and the hot dry season, from March to May.

Based on the distribution of rainfall across the country, four climate types (shown above) are being used by PAGASA to classify the climatic conditions of a province or region.

WHERE CORN IS GROWN BEST
After several years of visiting different areas, I think the dry season of Central Luzon has the best growing environment for corn. I will also add Ilocos region and Occidental Mindoro to this as they share the same climate (Type I – distinct wet and dry season) being in the western section of Luzon. This part of the country is the driest during the summer months that start from October and ends in May but somehow blessed with sufficient groundwater to support upland crops like corn and vegetables. Yields are the highest in these regions. To support my theory, I reviewed some 2008 stats from the government and the ranking are as follows:

Region

Rank Yield/ha

Yield MT/ha

Area (ha) planted

CAR

4

3.-73

52,698

Ilocos

1

4.88

74,460

Cagayan Valley

3

3.78

390,537

Central Luzon

2

4.68

48,307

MIMAROPA

6

2.89

38,111

Western Visayas

8

2.46

142,448

North Mindanao

5

2.94

369,839

SOCKSARGEN

7

2.60

418,594

While they are dwarfed by other regions as far as hectarage is concerned, Ilocos, Central Luzon, and CAR have the highest yields per hectare being in the top four. Occidental Mindoro would have been a shoo-in the top five had there been a separate figure for this province in MIMAROPA (Mindoro, Marinduque, Romblon and Palawan). The corn areas of Sablayan and its neighbouring towns have exactly the same cropping pattern and climate as Pangasinan.

THE BEST ENVIRONMENT
Like others, I asked this question to myself several years ago. Why is it so easy to get higher yields in the areas of Ilocos and Central Luzon as compared to the other parts of the country? My visit to other corn areas gave me good answers.

Crop rotation. This is unique for the majority of corn areas in Pangasinan, Tarlac, Pampanga, Nueva Ecjia, Ilocos Provinces, La Union, and Occidental Mindoro. They plant corn only during the dry season.

Artificial irrigation. Farmers cannot rely on rain during the dry months because there are negligible rains during this period. They won’t plant any corn unless they have shallow tube wells, deep wells, or any surface water to tap.

Stronger sunlight and warmer environment. Photosynthesis is in full throttle as the months will go on without that much cloudiness and other weather disturbances. Solar energy is tapped more efficiently by the corn plant. Optimum temperatures (25°C-32°C) aids in many plant processes.

Dry conditions and residue management. Major corn diseases present in other areas are suppressed when moist conditions are absent. Crops are absolutely free from diseases as the microbes that cause them are effectively managed.

Moderate winds. Lodging is not so much of a concern; strong winds can only come from typhoons which are generally absent in the dry season. Amihan can be a concern, but only in certain cases (plant population and timing of irrigation which softens the soil).

WE CAN’T CHOOSE OUR CLIMATE
Climate is the one thing we cannot change. It will always be there and we will always be at its mercy. But we can do something using basic knowledge of troubleshooting that we have on our crop and the growing environment that you have.

For many years, Pioneer has been at the forefront of introducing hybrids that will perform in every farmer’s field. But it is no easy task. Agronomists and breeders have to carefully gather, across several seasons and locations, information about the farmers’ fields and their markets to finally come up with a sound product that fits into their farms whatever the climatic condition is. However. the seeds can only do so much. I can still remember how a farmer friend of mine told me several years ago, “Walang tatalo sa magsasakang madalas sa kanyang bukid!” (Nothing can beat a farmer who is always on his field.) Here are some tips to expound on this wisdom.
1. Don’t plant if the field is too dry. Wait for some rain.
2. Keep your crops healthy; it will be better prepared than the neglected ones when drought or disease comes.
3. Set-up drainage canals if you think the heavy rains will pond in your field. Corn doesn’t like too much water.
4. Irrigate when you notice your plants wilting at the middle of the day. Plant shorter maturing hybrids if water is going to be a challenge.
5. If you have a history of borer infestations, watch out for it and plan your preventive or control measures. Better yet, use BT corn seeds
6. If disease pressure is high, know what hybrid you’re buying. Contact your local Pioneer agronomist.

By Allan C. Nieves

*For inquiries, comments, and questions regarding this article or suggestions on other corn-related topics, please e-mail the author at allan.nieves@pioneer.com.