Depending on the cost of plastic mulch, equipment availability, early market opportunities, and field installation systems, it may be economically viable to grow corn using plasticulture. Potential benefits include improved weed control, warmer soils, increased soil moisture retention, earlier first harvest, and increased yields. One study from the Iowa State University using ‘Temptation’ sweet corn found that clear plastic mulch shortened the first harvest date by four days. Additionally, all of the various colors of plastic mulch tested increased yield by 5 to 12% as compared to the bare ground control. Other studies have reported earlier ripening times of up to seven days.
When considering using plastics, planting is either done in furrows with clear plastic installed over the rows (low tunnel) or plastic is laid first and then the seeds are planted through the plastic. The second system requires either specialized plastic planters or planting is done by hand.
Yields for processing corn average between 4 and 6 tons per acre. For fresh market varieties, expect between 17,000-20,000 ears/acre (1,000 and 1,200 dozen) per acre. Higher yields, upwards of 2,000 dozen ears per acre, can be obtained with careful irrigation and nutrient management.