Stepping Up Your Management Game: How do we choose corn hybrids?
Does it ever feel like all our major events get shoved together all at once? Here we are in the middle of harvest, trying to assess hybrids, figure out which field to head to next, balance scale tickets, fill contracts, keep machines running, coordinate harvest logistics, and find enough caffeine to just keep going. And while all this is happening, decisions for the next year are already pending. We spend time looking over soil test values, deciding when and how much fertilizer to economically apply, if we need to lime, how much and where, and which fields to prioritize for the next year. We also start making seed decisions for the next year. Are all fields getting rotated? What trait packages do we need? When are the early commitment deadlines? With all of these factors in the mix competing for your attention, I thought it would be a good time to focus on this next big decision: picking out 2019 corn hybrids. While this process is fairly instinctual for many of you, I will try to break it down into a more comprehensive list of what things we are looking for when picking out hybrids, and some tools and tips to help you along. This will be a good refresher for you as we move into seed selection, as well as a good reference tool for your family and landlords who are removed from the farm and have that burning question: “How do you pick out your hybrids?”
There are a multitude of factors that go into selecting hybrids, but mainly revolve around these two main points: YIELD and RISK MANAGEMENT.
YIELD YIELD YIELD YEILD YEILD. I don’t know if I can stress this point enough. Yield should be your primary factor when selecting hybrids. We can compensate for a lot of things with increased management and more attention to detail. This is not one of those things. If we select hybrids that don’t have inherent yield potential, there is NOTHING we can do to make up for it. “Selecting a hybrid for its yield potential is the producer’s opportunity to set the bar high for the coming year.” (Iowa State University) It is impossible to make a low yielding hybrid suddenly one of your top producers. Its genetic potential is simply not capable of that. Each hybrid has a limit on its inherent potential. Many newer hybrids have yield potential easily exceeding 300 bpa now. These are typically higher than hybrids that have been on the market for some time. There is an advantage to some of these new hybrids.
When looking at yield, look at numerous test plots in the area. Don’t rely on a single test plot. Keep in mind that specific environmental conditions will affect the results of each unique test plot. Be looking for hybrids that have yielded consistently across all plots and yield environments. Head over to the Results --> Seed tab at pedersonseed.com to check out individual test plots from 2015-2018. Also take time to look over the 2017 Test Plot Analysis. This data is the aggregate of all Pioneer test plots in Brown, Nemaha, Doniphan, and Richardson counties. We’ve broken it up into high, average, and low yield environments to further fine tune the data sets. Pick out what categories you are likely to fall into for a given field to get the best recommendations. For each graph, the
highest yielding hybrid has been identified. Additionally, the most consistent hybrid (the one with the lowest standard deviation, or variation across all plots) has been denoted, as well as the hybrid with the most test plot wins. This helps you visualize three different ways of looking at consistent high yielders.
It is essential that we spread our risk out each growing season. The primary way of doing this is selecting different hybrids with different maturity dates. While selecting a variety of hybrids all with the same maturity date does spread the risk from specific disease, insect, or plant health pressures, it doesn’t compensate for some of the season specific environmental pressures. The primary one we are concerned with is our pollination window. A hot or dry pollination window can result in large disasters for crops if conditions are poor. If a single maturity is planted on one or two consecutive days, all your corn is vulnerable to a disaster. By selecting different hybrid maturities, we widen our total pollination and hopefully ensure that a few days of poor conditions don’t affect all hybrids.
Selecting a variety of hybrids also helps spread the risk of disease, insect or plant health pressures. Each hybrid will have a different set of resistance or tolerance criteria that will allow it to perform better or worse under changing conditions. Perhaps gray leaf spot will be particularly bad next year—if that is the case, it is prudent to plant multiple hybrids, some of which have higher GLS resistance scores. Having a wide range of hybrids that deal with a wide range of issues will help a corn crop deal with whatever the growing season throws at it.
Some may say, just pick one hybrid that is equipped to deal with all of these pests and challenges. While that would be ideal, it is unlikely that there is a single hybrid available that could best deal with a list of unknown challenges for the next growing season. Its important to think of how corn is bred to better understand this issue. Think of the corn plant as a battery—it only has a limited quantity of energy. Each little bit of energy the plant uses to protect against a disease or insect pressure is less energy the plant can use for putting on yield. If the plant uses all of its energy for yield, it leaves none to protect itself against disease or improving root and stalk strength, etc. We are attempting to balance some of these protective or defensive characteristics against some of the more offensive characteristics. Because we can’t get it all in one product, it is important to select a range of hybrids to best suit the criteria you are looking for.
Still not convinced of the need to add more diversity to your lineup? Let’s take a look at the past. In the 1970’s southern corn leaf blight caused an epidemic across the entire corn belt. Nearly every acre of corn was affected. This resulted in a shortage of corn for domestic use and exports. Many small towns across the country felt the effects of an entire lost corn harvest. So what does this have to do with hybrid diversity? At the time, a specific parent containing the “T cytoplasm” was used in nearly 80% of corn breeding. This eliminated the need for hand detasseling and was consequently very popular. The unfortunate side effect was that 80% of hybrids across the country contained this gene—which also made it very susceptible to SCLB. After this, the seed industry eliminated this from their genetics. But it does go to show what happens when we put all our eggs in one basket—both from a plant breeding standpoint and from farm level seed selection. Now, we have a much wider range of genetics to choose from. In fact, Pioneer has placed high priority of the expansion of unique parent lines since 1970. You can see in the figure the rapid increase in genetics, particularly from 2000 on. You can be assured that the hybrids you get from Pioneer are unique. You won’t find them in any other bag.
Other Factors Influencing Hybrid Selection
In addition to high yield potential and diversity for risk management, several other factors frequently come into play when making hybrid decisions.
Getting the crop off to a good start at the beginning of the year is essential. Selecting hybrids with excellent emergence, particularly under stressful conditions, such as cool or wet conditions will provide an advantage. This allows for earlier planting which can also move pollination earlier and reduce potential stress.
Insect Resistance: resistance to some of the most common pests such as corn borer, rootworm, and cutworm helps maintain stands, keep plants functioning, and maintain plant health from secondary disease infection.
Disease Resistance: The large majority of diseases we experience during the growing season overwinter on residue or in soil. Since the inoculum is present at all times and could be a factor in any given growing season, it is wise to select hybrids with some level of resistance to these diseases.
Drought Tolerance: While dependent on yearly conditions, hybrids with drought tolerant traits are often a good match for some of your tougher soils and areas with limited rainfall.
Standability: Minimizing stalk lodging or greensnap will contribute to overall harvestable yield. If the plant puts on an ear, but that ear isn’t able to be harvested, it doesn’t do us much good. Lodging may be more of an issue at higher populations, so select a hybrid with a higher standability score for those areas.
Early Seed Discounts
Take advantage of early seed discounts when possible. I know it is challenging to sort through all the material to make an educated decision before the first deadlines, but it can really pay off in the long run.
Overall, price of seed has gone up about $1.30 per acre per year. This can really add up over time. However, yield gain has been around 2 bushels per acre per year. While the price has gone up, the yield should be able to cover the additional cost. Some studies have shown that the price of seed has even gone down the last 2 years. Whatever the case is, Seed pricing definitely plays a roll in the hybrids we select. Remember, cheaper seed isn’t always going to provide you an economic benefit. More expensive hybrids with transgenic traits, while costlier, will oftentimes pay for themselves in saved yield and reduction in mid-season management such as multiple insecticide or fungicide applications.
Select hybrids primarily for yield and risk management, then by other factors specific to fields and the year. I don’t know if I can stress the importance of looking at test plot results enough. This provides you a quantifiable data source in order to make some educated decisions. Consider location of each plot, yield environment, weather conditions, and other factors when using to make seeding decisions. Finally, check out pedersonseed.com for test plot results and summaries. As always, talk to any of the Pederson Seed Team to learn more about our corn lineup for 2019. We are excited by the results we saw this year in a challenging environment, and proud to offer you a great selection for your operation.