HENSEL, N.D. - Farmers can't control Mother Nature or the markets, but they can get satisfaction from field-scale experimentation and dream about big yields when prices turn around.

Shaun Anderson, 41, farms with LA Farms at Hensel, with his uncle, Allen, 63, and Allen's son, Taylor, 35. (The "LA" started with the initials of Lawrence Anderson, Allen's father). The three households together farm about 7,000 acres, including about 500 acres of corn, about 20 miles from the Canadian border.

Typical spacing for corn at this latitude in the past 15 years has been 22-inch rows, planting at up to 36,000 to 38,000 plants per acre. This often produces a 150-bushels per acre yield with favorable weather.

But in the past two years, the Andersons have seeded all of their corn with an air drill, like for wheat. They use 9-inch spacing, 21 inches apart. The Andersons say it seems to have increased yields about 30 bushels an acre, with 35,000 to 40,000 plants per acre. They may increase to 45,000 in 2020. Last year's twin-row crop was about 9 feet, 7 inches tall in early September.

Pushing the limits

If that's not enough, the Andersons are trying out the technique of "solid-seeding" corn on a 10-acre plot, seeding corn not in rows, but similar to how they would seed wheat. They "blasted" out 45,000 to 50,000 seeds an acre, Shaun says. The spacing ends up to be 7½-inch spacing in twin rows, separated by 9-inch rows, or about 15 inches center-to-center. To get the same population, a typical 22-inch row crop spacing would have to have seed spaced in the rows too close together for the plants to grow and cross-pollinate properly.

Shaun doesn't know how it will turn out, and knows it's no sure thing. "Our consultant kind of laughed at us," he says, smiling.

The Andersons have watched farmers in southern states try to push the limits on corn and they want to try the same thing. They notified Jack Oberlander, the regional representative for Amity Technology, who sold them the air seeder they used in the experiment. "He said, 'You're going to be surprised: it's going to be your best field,'" Shaun says, grinning.

He's optimistic even though he says land grant trial results on corn spacing don't recommend it. Seed companies aren't recommending it, but are curious and cooperative.

"They say there's no limitations to what corn will do, and we've been trying to push the envelope, push it as hard as we can to get the yields," he says, but says it's worth a try, if even to satisfy curiosity. "The prices haven't been the greatest so the only way you can really get your maximum profit is to 'bushel' your way there," he says.