October 12, 2016
Harvest is underway! Long days and short nights in the combine, tractor and truck give farmers time to reflect. Key things to remember from 2016 are the wet spring, dry June, wet and late summer, and early fall. With commodity prices lower than past years farmers need to begin developing budgets for 2017.
Talk of inputs quickly turns to seed costs. Hybrid choice continues to be a complicated process for farmers. “By now most farmers have attended fall field days looking at the new hybrids as well as the hybrids they planted this year,” observes Iowa State University Extension field agronomist Aaron Saeugling. “We know what the plot looked like, but how do your 2016 hybrid choices look from the combine cab?”
Hybrid choice is one of the most important decisions you make
Saeugling discussed the topic “Comparing hybrids at harvest” in the ISU Extension Corn Source column in the October issue of Wallaces Farmer magazine. In the following article he reviews and expands on these 11 factors to keep in mind when considering hybrid choices for 2017: cost, disease tolerance, insect package traits, early emergence in corn, and human error. Also, he discusses hybrid selection from a standability, stalk quality, and grain drydown aspect to round out the list.
Factors to keep in mind when considering hybrid choices for 2017
1) Cost—As we visit with farmers this fall, cost is the first topic of discussion. You need to consider seed cost but don’t let this be the only driving factor in seed corn selection. Often, companies offer early-order discounts for booking seed in the fall and paying for it around the first of the year. While this conversation is best conducted between you, your banker and seed supplier you need to consider performance of the hybrids you planted this year.
2) Disease tolerance—This is a key component to note when evaluating how a hybrid performed. Here in southwest Iowa, gray leaf spot was an issue affecting some hybrids this year. In 2015 northern corn leaf blight was an issue. Ask yourself, how likely you are to apply a fungicide next season if commodity prices are low again? If you aren’t likely to apply foliar fungicide at tasseling, consider hybrid packages with above average disease ratings. Seed company agronomists are a good resource to ask how hybrids perform without using fungicide.
3) Insect package traits—These are common on most hybrids in Iowa. Consider your crop rotation and past history you’ve had with corn rootworm especially. Corn rootworm traits have been highly effective where insect resistance to the trait hasn’t been an issue. For producers who have experienced rootworm damage to corn roots, they know the decision they need to make. Several other options for rootworm control with soil-applied insecticides may be available for some producers.
5) Early season emergence of the corn hybrid—If you plant cover crops, specifically cereal rye, try to choose corn hybrids that are rated to do well in a corn-on-corn rotation to help early season corn growth. Early season vigor is an important trait when planting corn in less-than-optimum conditions. Having a nice, even emergence of corn helps to maximize its yield. How did your corn emerge this year? If from the combine cab this fall you observe erratic plant height and ear size, uneven emergence may be one of the causes.
6) Human error—Did you make the most of your planting season and go a little early on some days or plant in less-than-optimum conditions? You need to understand how the day of planting can affect the day of harvest. We often see planter issues that occurred in spring from the combine cab in the fall. Ask yourself, is this a hybrid issue or a stress issue? The answer is critical to help you make the right hybrid decision for the coming year.
7) Hybrid standability and stalk quality—These are two other issues you need to address in the fall. ISU agronomists highly recommend farmers do a pinch test on cornstalks in all fields every year. This gives you a simple, quick diagnosis check on how a particular hybrid performs on your farm.
8) New hybrids—New hybrids are entering the market at a record pace, and farmers are often sold a different number hybrid than currently planted. But, if it’s a hybrid from same family of hybrids, you now know how that family would perform under your management conditions.
9) Greensnap ratings—These ratings of corn hybrids are another factor you need to understand. This issue is very difficult to discuss due to the fact that all hybrids, at some point in their life, are prone to greensnap given the wrong growing conditions. If your farm has a history of strong storms, then greensnap tolerance is more of a consideration for your farm.
10) Grain drydown in the field—Drydown is another topic of great debate among farmers. This is a management decision since all farms have a different grain handling system. For those farms with no or limited drying facilities grain drydown in the field should be a point of discussion with seed suppliers. When considering drydown traits in hybrids make sure you are looking at the hybrid’s ability to mature quickly and not simply plant earlier maturing hybrids. When planting earlier maturing hybrids, you may be giving up yield potential and risking a shorter pollination window, which early maturing hybrids exhibit.
11) The best trait to look for is yield—This is the largest piece of the puzzle relating to maximizing profit. I mention yield last because this is the most difficult trait to find when matching hybrids to fields and the management style of your farm. One tool I highly recommend is from the Iowa Crop Improvement Association (croptesting.iastate.edu/). This electronic database allows farmers to look at hybrids specific to their part of the state, and allows you to compare hybrids on yield as well as other traits.
Summing up: “I encourage all farmers to run mini-plots on their own farms to self-evaluate different hybrids and watch them during the growing season,” says Saeugling. “While this does take time to set up this may be the best paying few hours you do all season. I recommend a minimum of four-row plots. Experience is the best teacher, so see for yourself the potential a hybrid may have with your management. By doing this mini-plot program, you’ll feel more comfortable making that important hybrid selection.”
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