Before you even set foot in the field, you’re going to make the decision that has the single biggest impact on your corn yield. You stand to gain or lose as much as 30% to 50% of yield on a choice you can make from your kitchen table.
“There’s no other agronomy practice that affects yield as much as hybrid selection,” explains Jeff Coulter, University of Minnesota Extension corn agronomist.
In fact, in hybrid trials at the University of Minnesota and the University of Wisconsin, the gap between highest- and lowest-yielding hybrids in a plot is typically about 70 bushels per acre. In Iowa trials, the average spread is about 60 bushels per acre, and in Ohio, it’s a still-impressive 40 bushels.
Read trial data from a variety of plots — in a variety of locations, especially if you can’t get results from multiple years — to give yourself a good idea of how different hybrids handle a variety of conditions. Did the hybrid perform well not only where rainfall was adequate, but also in trials that suffered from drought stress?
University trials can be a good resource, but can lack product depth and longevity — especially since the lifespan of a hybrid is now 3.5 years. For deeper insight into how a particular number performs, consult various seed dealers. They have probably seen data from more years, as well as results from other states.
Once you’ve collected enough trial data, focus on the variables in each field that could make the biggest difference in your choice of hybrid:
- soil type and drainage
- growing degree days and days to maturity
- history of disease
- and insect problems
- tillage program
- row spacing — upright leaves may capture more light in narrow rows
- drought tolerance
- resistance to lodging and greensnap
- standability and stalk strength
- staygreen (the ability to stay healthy late in the season)
- test weight
Spread your risk
When it comes to maturity, hedge your bets. Seed company sources tend to recommend spreading your investment across 25% early-maturing hybrids, 50% midrange and 25% late-maturing hybrids.
Though many experts agree on the ratios, strategies differ.
Mike Zwingman, agronomy research leader for United Farmers Cooperative in York, Neb., suggests planting short-season hybrids first. That spreads out the pollination window, helping reduce the risk of summer heat stress — as well as the stress of having too many acres ready for the combine at the
Peter Thomison, corn production expert at Ohio State University, prefers to see full-season hybrids planted first to give them a good shot at collecting as many heat units as possible and drying down adequately by season’s end. Full-season hybrids tend to suffer greater yield loss from planting delays compared to short- or midseason hybrids, he notes.
Also consider your harvest operation and bottlenecks — from drying and storage strategies to hauling delays, other crop harvests and more.
Picking hybrids by smartphone
The rise of the smartphone app has been big for the consumer world, and savvy seed producers are getting on the bandwagon, as well. There are more applications coming on stream from individual companies that will help you make your way through the forest of choices before you.
Just a decade ago, seed companies were excited when they were launching a dozen new seed choices; today that number has ballooned to the triple digits as plant breeders have fine-tuned their products to meet specific geographies.
Major seed companies are stepping up to bring this information to your smartphone. Here are a few apps to check out and try as seed-buying time arrives. Best way to search for these apps is to type their exact name into the search field either at the iTunes store or at Google Play (we’ll indicate if it’s on iTunes and/or at Google Play).
agSeedSelect — This Monsanto app allows you to select seed based on your location and specific farm needs. It takes some of the guesswork out of hybrid selection. The app is free (iTunes only). It also works as a straight Web page application on any computer or tablet.
AgriGold We Know Corn — This selection app from AgriGold allows you to choose hybrids based on your location and specific field conditions. The app is free (iTunes only).
Integra Positioning — This Wilbur-Ellis app walks you through the questions to ask when selecting seed. While the app is free, you’ll need an account with the company to make it work (iTunes and Google Play).
Latham Seed Guide — Latham Hi-Tech Seeds offers a guide for its products. The regional seed company provides a range of trait packages. The app is free (iTunes only).
Plant Wyffels — This independent seed company offers traits from a range of players, and this app allows you to match traits to your fields. The app is free (iTunes only).
Seed Guide — Great Lakes Hybrids offers an app that allows you to search by trait or maturity for your region. This app is free (iTunes only).
Do your homework
It comes back to looking at data from several locations. Keep your eye on the most important element: consistent performance across a variety of sites and conditions.
“We can’t predict next year’s growing environment,” notes crop production specialist Emerson Nafziger at the University of Illinois. “But having data from more than one location, even if locations are many miles apart, does a better job of predicting future hybrid performance than a single location.”
The good news is there are plenty of great options.
“There aren’t really many bad hybrids out there, but some may not do well in certain conditions,” Nafziger says.
It certainly pays to know where they do and don’t.