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Bt corn performs well in Mississippi trials

“We’ve had a good many requests for the publication and data. We’ve already got the information in a spreadsheet file. That’s been forwarded to county Extension offices and several industry representatives. So it’s already being disseminated just not in an official package. That should be available any day now,” says Larson.

Larson says the most surprising development in this year’s variety trials is the success of Bt corn hybrids. The hybrids not only provided protection against corn borers but also dominated yield comparisons this year.

“By looking at the top yielding varieties, we saw as much as a 20- to 25-bushel difference between Bt hybrids and conventional hybrids that were based on the same genetics. These varieties were often sister lines and that much difference showed up.”

The difference in location – and the corresponding magnitude of that difference – was based purely upon infestation of corn borers during the season, says Larson.

“There are two mechanisms of yield loss from corn borers. One, caused primarily by the first and second generation of corn borers, is physiological – grain yield loss that is caused by borers causing inhibition of water and nutrient transfer to developing kernels.”

Third generation corn borers normally don’t cause the same type of damage because they don’t normally arrive until the third week of August. By that time, most of the corn in Mississippi has already reached physiological maturity.

“So, the third generation won’t hurt grain yield. It will, however, cause plenty of damage through tunneling in the stalk, which leads to lodging. Initially, the corn borers will tunnel around the ear. After about 20 to 25 days, though, they’ll travel to the base of the stalk and then girdle the stalk’s inside just a few inches from ground level. By doing that, these corn borers are preparing a home for overwintering. As soon as they cut the stalk and wind arrives, it topples over.”

If corn isn’t harvested by Labor Day, there will be a lot of lodging seen due to the third generation of corn borers, says Larson.

There are other ways to show the dominance of Bt hybrids in this year’s trials. In early maturing irrigated trials, the top 6 hybrids are all Bt’s. In the late maturing irrigating test, the top 5 are Bt’s.

“We got similar results from dryland locations, although the more traditionally troublesome spots for corn borers are in the Delta, where irrigation is more prevalent.”

Larson suspects that if there’s going to be a run on seed, Bt hybrids will likely be what’s in tight supply.

“Interest in the Bt’s has already been running high. After producers see these yield results, I think interest will skyrocket. Farmers are likely going to book good Bt hybrids as soon as possible.”

Larson also expects grain sorghum acreage in the state to increase. Mississippi’s acreage actually decreased this year – quite a different story than in other Delta states.

“After a lot of excessive rain in 2001, we had a lot of kernel sprouting in the crop that turned a lot of state farmers off to it. It’s odd because the traditional sorghum areas of the state decreased their acres last year. Meanwhile, in the areas not known for producing sorghum, acreage went up.”

Experts will be talking about all this and more at the Delta Ag Expo in Cleveland, Miss., Jan. 21-22, says Larson. Normally, there’s only a corn program at that meeting. This year, however, presentations will be done on corn, grain sorghum and wheat programs.

Corn acreage looks to be going up across the Delta, says Jim Craig of Stratton Seed in Stuttgart, Ark. Craig says the scuttlebutt on rice and cotton is acreage could be down 10 to 15 percent across the states that grow them. Milo and corn could take up some of the slack.

“But say Arkansas goes from 300,000 acres to 400,000 acres. It’s true that’s a 30-plus percent increase. But that isn’t as big a swing as it sounds. As it is right now, I don’t think getting corn seed will be much of a problem,” says Craig.

Farmers aren’t booking seed and worrying too much about next year just yet, say seed dealers.

“I think some growers are relaxing in the deer woods and duck blinds for a short spell. They’ll collect their wits, get their energy back up and come out of hunting season raring to go. It’s just a little premature to assess the coming corn season,” says Craig.

“Some farmers who have been in the crop a long time are already getting varieties lined up. But most of the growers that switch crops around a lot are still watching markets and reading up on market tendencies to come up with a game plan. They’re also waiting on number crunching from government programs. Until everything is settled on that front, no one is going to make definite plans.”

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