“Genetic diversity” is a phrase thrown around a lot these days when some companies are pitching seed. Do most growers understand what genetic diversity means, and why it is important?
“First and foremost, it’s important for a grower to understand the genetics he or she is getting in a hybrid they’re buying for their lineup,” says Dustin Bowling, western region agronomist with AgriGold based in Chillicothe, Mo. “They also need to understand that environment can affect how the genetics perform in any one year.
“If you don’t have the right genetics for your farm, your soils, disease pressures and normal growing conditions, you can leave 40 to 50 bushels per acre on the table.”
Some people today talk about the corn genome, which includes the complete genetic makeup of corn. While it’s good to understand what the term means, Bowling believes there are two key things you should know as a grower when you’re talking to a seed sales representative and preparing to select hybrids for the next season.
“There is the genotype, referring to the genetics inside a hybrid which you can’t see,” he explains. “Then there is the phenotype, or expression of characteristics which you can see. Sometimes people want to stop at the phenotype, or characteristics which they can see, such as ear height, type of tassel, root size and so on. At AgriGold, we believe it’s important to get down to the genotype — what are the genetics behind the hybrid?”
Yield still No. 1
“Yield is still the No. 1 factor we look for in selecting genetics and choosing hybrids,” Bowling says.
“It’s important to become more accurate in picking hybrids. Don’t just pick a hybrid on yield for the whole farm.
“You may look at yield first. But you need to look at other characteristics, as well. You ought to make hybrid decisions field by field.”
A year with stress can expose weakness in a hybrid, he adds. It may not show up if weather conditions are favorable. It’s another reason not to have all your eggs in one basket — or all your fields planted to one hybrid, he adds.
Trait decisions are likely the second most important decision you’ll make, Bowling continues. Once you get the right genetic package, add the traits that will protect it from the most prevalent pests in your area. That’s going to vary depending upon where you farm across the Midwest, he notes. Decide if you need protection from both aboveground and belowground pests based on your situation.
“These trait decisions should be made region by region,” Bowling says. “Talk with your seedsman as you’re making these decisions.”
You may be able to get by without certain traits, depending upon insect pressures in your area, Bowling says. In other parts of the country, sometimes even other parts of the state, it may pay to spend money on traits to play it safe against certain insects that are more likely to be problems in that area.
For example, corn borer tends to be a more common pest year in and year out in the western Corn Belt. However, last year in Indiana, checks in some hybrids without trait protection for corn borer control showed up to 35% infected plants, vs. 3% to 4% in hybrids with protection in the same field. It’s a pest that doesn’t show up every year in the eastern Corn Belt, but when it does, it can have an impact.