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A conversation about multi-hybrid planting and the futureA conversation about multi-hybrid planting and the future

Why Bob Nielsen believes he can still do better looking for the right hybrid for a field.

Tom Bechman 1

February 22, 2016

4 Min Read

You’ve read many articles from many sources explaining why the idea of multi-hybrid planting makes sense. And you’ve read some of them here, and may read more of them here. You’ve likely also read comments from Dave Nanda, a private consultant and former corn breeder, who thinks the farthest it would make sense to go is two hybrids, and only if soil types are variable. With two hybrids and variable rates, he thinks you could accomplish your goal of maximizing yield.


Here’s yet another opinion. Bob Nielsen, Purdue University’s Extension corn specialist for more than 30 years isn’t convinced that planting multiple hybrids in the same field is necessary in most cases. He still believes you can get the job done with one hybrid- if you find the right hybrid.

Here is our conversation with Nielsen on this topic.

Bechman: Aren’t there differences in fields related to soil type?

Nielsen: Yes, but high and low yielding areas in a field are not all related to soil type. That’s just one factor. There are many other variables that cause variability for yield throughout fields.

Bechman: If you’ve got an area that doesn’t yield as well and a seedsman says he has a hybrid that would do better there, isn’t that worth trying?

Nielsen: The first question that should be addressed is why the area is lower yielding. If you don’t understand why an area yields less in the first place, you also don’t know which hybrid characteristics would be important for increasing yield in that area. For example, if you know the area is routinely low yielding due to inadequate soil moisture, it makes sense to plant a drought-resistant hybrid. However, that same drought-tolerant hybrid may also perform superbly in the remainder of the field. You can’t just pick out different hybrids in a willy-nilly fashion and expect to solve all the issues related to why the area yields less.

Related: Agronomist sees bright future in multi-hybrid concept

Bechman: So what do you propose instead?

Nielsen: While my goal is to identify a range of hybrids over my entire farming operation that perform well across a wide range of conditions, my preference for individual fields is still to plant one hybrid. . If we get a wet year like last year, it can withstand wet feet as much as possible. If we get a dry year like 2012, it can still perform in a drought.

Bechman: Where are you going to find those hybrids? There are no perfect hybrids out there.

Nielsen: No, I didn’t say there was a perfect hybrid. But there are hybrids that perform better over a range of conditions than some other hybrids do.

Bechman: OK, say a farmer buys your argument. Where does he find such hybrids?

Nielsen: It takes a lot of homework. You can’t just listen to one salesperson, or look at one trial. You need to get your hands on as much data as possible. You need data from multiple locations because those locations hopefully represent a range of growing conditions. . You can use university trials, seed company trials and trials by independent research groups.

Bechman: Why is it such a big deal to find a hybrid that will perform over a range of conditions rather than produce the top yield this year?

Nielsen: Why? It’s because we are in a period of climatic variability with frequent extreme weather conditions. We’ve gone from a drought to excessive rain and everything in between in the past four seasons. The problem is you don’t know what you’re going to get in 2016, but you know it will likely be extreme.

Bechman: If a farmer knew what was coming, then he could pick hybrids best suited to those conditions, right?

Nielsen: Yes, but that’s the point- he doesn’t know. No one knows ahead of time what you’re going to get. Instead of shooting for top yield in any one year, I believe it makes sense to pick hybrids that will perform as well as possible under a variety of conditions. We don’t know what to expect.

About the Author(s)

Tom Bechman 1

Editor, Indiana Prairie Farm

Tom Bechman is an important cog in the Farm Progress machinery. In addition to serving as editor of Indiana Prairie Farmer, Tom is nationally known for his coverage of Midwest agronomy, conservation, no-till farming, farm management, farm safety, high-tech farming and personal property tax relief. His byline appears monthly in many of the 18 state and regional farm magazines published by Farm Progress.

"I consider it my responsibility and opportunity as a farm magazine editor to supply useful information that will help today's farm families survive and thrive," the veteran editor says.

Tom graduated from Whiteland (Ind.) High School, earned his B.S. in animal science and agricultural education from Purdue University in 1975 and an M.S. in dairy nutrition two years later. He first joined the magazine as a field editor in 1981 after four years as a vocational agriculture teacher.

Tom enjoys interacting with farm families, university specialists and industry leaders, gathering and sifting through loads of information available in agriculture today. "Whenever I find a new idea or a new thought that could either improve someone's life or their income, I consider it a personal challenge to discover how to present it in the most useful form, " he says.

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