Maize, also known as corn, is one of the world’s most versatile and widely grown crops. It is a staple food for millions of people, a source of feed for livestock and poultry, and a raw material for many industrial products. Maize can adapt to various agroecological conditions, from tropical to temperate regions and lowlands to highlands. However, to grow maize successfully and profitably, you need to know some essential farming techniques to help you achieve high yields and quality.
This article will share some tips on growing maize effectively and efficiently. We will cover soil preparation, seed selection, planting methods, nutrient management, irrigation, weed control, pest and disease management, harvesting, common challenges, and marketing tips. By the end of this article, you will better understand the best practices for maize cultivation and be ready to start your maize farm.
Soil Preparation For Maize Farming
The first step in corn farming is to prepare the soil for planting. Maize requires deep, well-drained, fertile soil with a pH of 5.5 to 7.0. It can tolerate some soil acidity but not salinity or waterlogging. Maize is a heavy feeder of nutrients, so it is advisable to apply organic manure or compost before planting to improve soil fertility and structure.
To prepare the soil for maize planting, you should thoroughly plow the land and break up clods or lumps. You should also remove any weeds, stones, or debris that may interfere with seed germination or crop growth. You can use a harrow or a rake to level the soil surface and create a fine tilth. It would help if you also made ridges or beds, depending on your chosen planting method.
The next step in maize farming is to select the right seeds for your farm. Maize seeds come in different varieties that vary in their maturity period, yield potential, drought tolerance, pest and disease resistance, and quality traits. It would help if you chose a variety that suits your agro-climatic conditions, market demand, and personal preference.
Some of the factors to consider when selecting maize seeds are:
The length of the growing season:
You should choose a variety that matches the number of days available for crop growth in your area. For example, if you have a short rainy season, you should choose an early-maturing variety that can produce grain before the onset of drought.
The availability of water:
You should choose a variety that can cope with the amount of water available in your area. For example, if you have limited irrigation facilities or frequent dry spells, choose a drought-tolerant variety that can survive water stress.
The incidence of pests and diseases:
You should choose a variety that can resist or tolerate the common pests and diseases that affect maize in your area. For example, if you have a high risk of stem borers or leaf blight, you should choose a variety with genetic resistance or tolerance to these problems.
The quality of grain:
You should choose a variety that produces grain with desirable characteristics such as color, size, shape, texture, taste, nutritional value, and shelf life. For example, choose a variety with high protein content and good milling quality if you want to sell your maize for human consumption.
You should also ensure that the seeds you buy are certified by an authorized agency and have a high germination rate and purity. You should avoid using seeds from unknown sources or previous harvests as they may have low quality or carry diseases.
Planting Techniques of Maize Farming
The third step in corn farming is to plant the seeds in the prepared soil. There are different methods of planting maize depending on the seedbed type, labor and machinery availability, and the desired plant population.
Some of the standard methods of planting maize are:
- Hill planting: This method involves planting 2-3 seeds per hill at 75-85 cm spacing between rows and 25-40 cm within rows. This method is suitable for manual planting on flat or gently sloping land.
- Row planting: This method involves planting one seed per hole at 60-75 cm spacing between rows and 15-25 cm within rows. This method is suitable for mechanical planting on flat or gently sloping land.
- Ridge planting: This method involves planting one seed per hole on top or along the sides of ridges at a spacing of 75-90 cm between hills and 20-30 cm within ridges. This method is suitable for manual or mechanical planting on sloping land or areas prone to waterlogging.
- Bed planting: This method involves planting one seed per hole on raised beds at 90-120 cm spacing between beds and 20-30 cm within beds. This method suits manual or mechanical planting on poorly drained or saline soils.
The optimal plant population for maize depends on the variety, soil fertility, water availability, and pest and disease pressure. Generally, a population of 40,000-60,000 plants per hectare is recommended for high-yielding types under favorable conditions.
The fourth step in maize farming is to manage the nutrient supply for the crop. Maize requires adequate nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, and other micronutrients for optimal growth and development. The nutrient requirement of maize varies with the growth stage, the soil type, and the yield potential.
The best way to determine the nutrient requirement of maize is to conduct a soil test before planting and apply fertilizers according to the soil test results and recommendations. However, if a soil test is unavailable, you can follow some general guidelines for fertilizer application based on your expected yield.
Some of the general guidelines for fertilizer application for maize are:
- Apply a basal dose of 20-30 kg of nitrogen (N), 40-60 kg of phosphorus (P2O5), and 20-40 kg of potassium (K2O) per hectare at planting or within two weeks after planting. You can use a compound fertilizer such as DAP (18-46-0) or NPK (15-15-15) to supply these nutrients.
- Apply a top dressing of 40-60 kg of nitrogen per hectare at the knee-high stage (4-6 weeks after planting) and another 40-60 kg at the tasseling stage (8-10 weeks after planting). You can use a straight fertilizer such as urea (46% N) or ammonium sulfate (21% N) to supply this nutrient.
- Apply micronutrients such as zinc, boron, iron, manganese, and copper as foliar sprays or soil applications if they are deficient in your soil or crop. You can use a micronutrient mixture such as ZnSO4 (35% Zn), H3BO3 (17% B), FeSO4 (19% Fe), MnSO4 (27% Mn), or CuSO4 (25% Cu) to supply these nutrients.
You should also practice organic farming by applying organic manure or compost at 5-10 tonnes per hectare before planting or as a side dressing during crop growth. Organic matter can improve soil fertility, water retention, and biological activity.
In case You missed it: Essential Nutrients For Plants: A Comprehensive Guide
Irrigation Management of Maize Farming
The fifth step in corn farming is to manage the water supply for the crop. Maize requires adequate and timely irrigation for optimal growth and yield. The water requirement of maize varies with the growth stage, the climate, and the soil type.
The critical stages for irrigation in maize are:
- Germination and emergence: The soil should be moist enough to ensure uniform germination and emergence of seeds. Depending on the soil moisture status, you should irrigate the field before or immediately after planting.
- Vegetative growth: The crop should receive sufficient water to support rapid vegetative growth and development. Depending on the weather and soil conditions, you should irrigate the field for 7-10 days.
- Flowering and grain filling: The crop should receive adequate water to ensure successful pollination and grain filling. Depending on the weather and soil conditions, you should rinse the field for 5-7 days.
- Maturity: The crop should receive less water to facilitate grain drying and hardening. It would help if you stopped irrigating the field when the grains reach physiological maturity (black layer formation).
The amount of water to apply per irrigation depends on the crop water requirement, the irrigation method, and the irrigation efficiency. Generally, you can apply 5-7 cm of water per irrigation using furrow, sprinkler, or drip irrigation methods.
The sixth step in maize farming is to control the weeds that compete with the crop for nutrients, water, light, and space. Weeds can reduce maize yield by 20-50% depending on the weed species, density, and competition duration.
The best way to control weeds in maize is to adopt an integrated weed management approach that combines preventive, cultural, mechanical, biological, and chemical methods.
Some of the integrated weed management practices for maize are:
- Use clean seeds and equipment to prevent weed seed introduction.
- Prepare a fine seedbed and plant at optimum spacing and depth to ensure quick crop establishment and canopy closure.
- Apply mulch or intercrop with legumes or cover crops to suppress weed growth and conserve soil moisture.
- Hoe or cultivate between rows or hills to remove weeds manually or mechanically.
- Use crop rotation or fallow periods to break weed life cycles and reduce weed seed banks.
- Use biological agents such as insects, fungi, or bacteria to control specific weed species.
- Use selective herbicides such as atrazine, alachlor, metolachlor, 2,4-D, or glyphosate to control broadleaf or grassy weeds. You should apply herbicides at the recommended dose, time, and method to avoid crop injury or environmental damage.
You should monitor the weed situation regularly and take appropriate action to prevent weed infestation and interference.
Pest and Disease Management of Maize Farming
The seventh step in corn farming is to protect the crop from pests and diseases that can damage the plant parts and reduce the yield and quality. Maize is attacked by various insects, fall Armyworms, rodents, birds, fungi, bacteria, viruses, and nematodes that can cause significant losses if not controlled.
The best way to manage pests and diseases in maize is to adopt an integrated pest management approach that combines resistant varieties, cultural practices, biological control, physical control, and chemical control.
Some of the integrated pest management practices for maize are:
- Use resistant or tolerant varieties that can withstand or recover from pest or disease attacks.
- Practice crop rotation or intercropping with non-host crops to reduce pest or disease incidence and severity.
- Remove crop residues and weeds that can harbor pests or diseases or serve as alternate hosts.
- Use trap crops or pheromone traps to attract and capture pests or their natural enemies.
- Use biological agents such as predators, parasitoids, pathogens, or nematodes to control specific pest or disease species.
- Use physical barriers such as nets, fences, scarecrows, or repellents to protect the crop from rodents, birds, or insects.
- Use selective pesticides such as insecticides, fungicides, bactericides, or nematicides to control pest or disease outbreaks. You should apply pesticides at the recommended dose, time, and method to avoid crop injury or environmental damage.
You should scout the crop regularly and take appropriate action to prevent pest or disease infestation and damage.
The final step in maize farming is to harvest the crop when it reaches maturity and has the desired moisture content. Gathering at the right time is essential to ensure a high yield and quality of grain and to avoid losses due to shattering, lodging, pests, diseases, or weather.
The maturity of maize can be determined by observing the physical changes in the plant parts, such as:
- The leaves turn yellow and dry up.
- The husks turn brown and loose.
- The kernels become hard and dent.
- The cob snaps easily from the stalk.
- The black layer forms at the base of the kernels.
The moisture content of maize can be measured by using a moisture meter or by biting a kernel. The ideal moisture content for harvesting maize is 20-25% for shelling or 15-18% for storage.
To harvest maize, you can use manual or mechanical methods depending on the production scale and labor and machinery availability.
Standard Methods of Harvesting
- Hand-picking: This method involves plucking the cobs from the stalks by hand. This method is suitable for small-scale production or fresh consumption.
- Hand shelling: This method involves hand removing the husks and kernels from the cobs. This method is suitable for small-scale production or seed production.
- Machine shelling: This method involves using a machine to separate the husks and kernels from the cobs. This method is suitable for large-scale production or commercial purposes.
- Machine harvesting: This method involves using a machine to cut the stalks and thresh the cobs in one operation. This method is suitable for large-scale production or commercial purposes.
After harvesting maize, you should dry the grain to a safe moisture level of 12-14% for long-term storage. You can use natural or artificial drying methods depending on the weather conditions and the availability of facilities.
Methods of Drying Maize
Some of the standard methods of drying maize are:
- Sun drying: involves spreading the grain on a clean surface under direct sunlight. You should stir the grain frequently and protect it from rain, dew, dust, insects, rodents, birds, or thieves. This method is suitable for small-scale production or low-cost drying.
- Solar drying: This method uses a solar dryer to dry the grain. A solar dryer is a device that uses solar energy to heat air and circulate it through a chamber containing the grain. You should monitor the temperature and humidity inside the dryer and adjust accordingly. This method is suitable for small-scale production or low-cost drying.
- Mechanical drying: This method uses an automatic dryer to dry the grain. A mechanical dryer is a device that uses electricity, gas, oil, or biomass to heat air and blow it through a bin containing the grain. You should monitor the temperature and moisture content of the grain and adjust accordingly. This method is suitable for large-scale production or fast drying.
After drying maize, you should store the grain in a clean, dry, and well-ventilated place. Use airtight containers or bags to prevent moisture absorption and insect infestation. It would help if you also treated the grain with appropriate chemicals or biological agents to protect it from pests, diseases, or fungi.
Common Challenges of Maize Farming
Abiotic and biotic stresses:
Maize is affected by various environmental and biological factors that can reduce its growth and yield. These include drought, heat, cold, flooding, salinity, soil acidity, nutrient deficiency, pests, diseases, and weeds. Maize farmers need to adopt appropriate agronomic practices and use resistant or tolerant varieties to cope with these stresses 1.
Poor soil fertility:
Maize requires fertile soil with adequate organic matter and nutrients for optimal production. However, many maize-growing areas need better soil fertility due to continuous cropping, erosion, leaching, or mining of nutrients. Maize farmers must apply organic or inorganic fertilizers and practice soil conservation measures to improve soil fertility2.
Lack of access to inputs:
Maize production depends on the availability and affordability of quality inputs such as seeds, fertilizers, pesticides, and machinery. However, many maize farmers need help accessing these inputs due to high costs, limited supply, poor distribution, or lack of credit. Maize farmers need to seek reliable sources of inputs and use them efficiently and effectively2.
Low levels of mechanization:
Maize production involves labor-intensive operations such as land preparation, planting, weeding, harvesting, shelling, and drying. However, many maize farmers need access to mechanized tools or equipment to reduce drudgery and increase efficiency. Maize farmers need to adopt appropriate mechanization levels that suit their production scale and resource availability2.
Poor post-harvest management:
Maize production continues after harvesting. For the harvested grain to retain its quality and value, it is essential to properly dry, store, process, and market it. However, many maize farmers need more post-harvest facilities or skills to prevent losses due to moisture, insects, rodents, birds, fungi, or theft. Maize farmers need to adopt good post-harvest practices and technologies that can reduce losses and add value to their produce2.
Maize production requires capital investment for inputs, labor, machinery, transport, storage, processing, and marketing. However, many maize farmers need more funds or access to credit that can enable them to finance their production activities. Maize farmers need to seek alternative sources of income or credit and manage their cash flow wisely2.
Rising input costs:
Maize production is affected by fluctuations in the prices of inputs such as seeds, fertilizers, pesticides, fuel, and labor. These prices are influenced by various factors such as supply and demand, exchange rates, inflation, taxes, subsidies, or policies. Maize farmers need to monitor the input prices and adjust their production plans accordingly2.
Marketing Tips for Maize Farming
The last step in maize production is to market your products and earn income from your hard work. Selling maize produce can be challenging, especially in a competitive and dynamic environment. You need to know the market demand, the price trends, the quality standards, and the best channels to sell your maize.
Here are some tips to help you market your maize produce effectively and profitably:
Know Your Market:
Researching the market demand and preferences for maize in your area or target market would be best. You should find out who the potential buyers are, their quality requirements, how much they are willing to pay, and when and where they buy. You can use various sources of market information such as newspapers, radio, the internet, extension workers, traders, or other farmers.
Know Your Costs:
Calculating your production and marketing costs would be best to determine your break-even point and profit margin. You should include all the costs of growing, harvesting, drying, storing, transporting, and selling your maize. It would help if you also considered the opportunity cost of your labor and capital. You can use a simple formula to calculate your costs and profits:
- Costs = Fixed costs + Variable costs
- Profit = Revenue – Costs
Know Your Options:
It would help if you explored the marketing options for your maize produce. As a maize farmer, you have various options for selling your produce. You can sell to different buyers like consumers, traders, millers, processors, or exporters. Additionally, you can sell your maize at various locations, including local markets, nearby towns, assembly markets, or border markets. It is also possible to sell your maize at different times, like immediately after harvest, during the lean season, or when prices are high.
You should develop a marketing strategy that suits your objectives, resources, and risks. It would help if you decided what quantity and quality of maize to produce, when and how to harvest and dry it, how to store and transport it, and who and how to sell it. It would help if you also decided whether to sell individually or collectively with other farmers. Consider using contracts or price hedging tools to secure a favorable price and reduce price risk.
Know Your Rights:
You should be aware of your rights and responsibilities as a maize product seller. You should comply with the legal and regulatory requirements for maize marketing, such as grading standards, quality certification, weighing procedures, market fees, taxes, licenses, etc. It would be best to protect yourself from unfair or fraudulent practices such as under-weighing, adulteration, delayed payment, etc. You should seek legal advice or assistance if you need help marketing your maize.
Following these tips can improve your marketing skills and increase your income from maize farming.
Maize farming is rewarding and profitable if you follow the proper techniques and practices. By applying the tips we have shared in this article, you can grow maize successfully and efficiently and enjoy high yields and quality. We hope you have learned something new and helpful from this article, and we wish you all the best in your corn farming journey. Happy farming!
I am Gaushoul Agam,
𝐂𝐨-𝐅𝐨𝐮𝐧𝐝𝐞𝐫 & 𝐂𝐄𝐎,
As an experienced SA Horticulture Officer in the Horticulture Wing of the Department of Agricultural Extension, Ministry of Agriculture, Government of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh, I am dedicated to advancing agriculture and farming.
With a mission to address global food safety challenges amid a growing population, diminishing arable land, and the impacts of climate change on agriculture, I founded ToAgriculture. Through this platform, I empower readers with modern agricultural techniques, effective pest and disease control, and sustainable agricultural management, leading to a more secure and prosperous future in agriculture.
With over four years of expertise in field crops and seven years in horticulture crops, my knowledge spans fruit and vegetable farming techniques, adept pest-disease management, proficient irrigation strategies, and the art of grafting. Join me on this journey of discovery as I share insights and experiences to guide readers toward a sustainable future.
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