Evan, a farmer who invested in multi-hybrid technology to change hybrids on the same pass in 2020, can’t say with 100% certainty whether the practice paid. He notes that without a crew to test each hybrid on both soil types, it’s difficult to know for sure if there’s a benefit.
However, you can tell what his gut says by his decision for 2021. In the first year, he wrote prescriptions and switched hybrids for the most variable fields. For 2021, he wrote prescriptions for every field.
Jason Webster, manager of the Precision Technology Institute near Pontiac, Ill., helped pioneer the concept of multi-hybrid planting a decade ago. Precision Planting operates PTI, and the company also sells equipment, both for new planters and for upgrading existing planters, which makes multi-hybrid planting possible. Other companies also offer similar technology.
Webster understood from the beginning that proving that the concept works would be tedious. It involves planting blocks of each of the two hybrids on each of the zones where you want to switch hybrids. It also requires working closely with a seed supplier. Usually, Webster says, he selects an offensive hybrid with higher yield potential to plant on the best soils and a defensive hybrid that may stand up better on the soils that aren’t as forgiving. The theory is that both soils are in the same field.
What tests say
In 2020, Webster programmed the planter to place an Agri-Gold hybrid he selected as a defensive hybrid on higher ground with 2% to 3% organic matter, and a different, offensive Agri-Gold hybrid on lower elevations with 4% to 6% organic matter. When both went head-to-head on the lighter soil, the defensive hybrid won by 9.8 bushels per acre. When going head-to-head on better soil, the offensive hybrid was better by 19.8 bushels per acre.
Without multi-hybrid planting, over half the time the defensive hybrid would have been on the better soil, losing ground, but the rest of the time, the offensive hybrid would have been falling short on the lighter soils.
Based on the comparisons, Webster calculated that the average gain per acre for using multi-hybrid planting in 2020 on that field was 14.7 bushels per acre, or $55.13 per acre. That was figured with corn at $3.75 per bushel.
The 2020 results matched up well with previous tests. PTI carried out similar studies in 2018 and 2019. Average benefit for multi-hybrid planting versus only planting one hybrid per pass over the three years was 14 bushels per acre, or $48.22 per acre.
Based on these results, Webster says that if a grower invested $1,000 per row to upgrade to multi-hybrid planting on a 16-row planter, and placed hybrids to achieve similar results, he could pay off the investment on 332 acres. If you don’t already have row units that can be upgraded, or your planter is larger, initial investment would be higher. The secret is in understanding hybrid characteristics and matching hybrids to soils, Webster concludes.