Although results of the 2010 Ohio Corn Performance Trials (and those of neighboring states) have yet to be published, many growers are already making decisions about hybrids to plant in 2011. Hybrid selection is one of the most important management decisions a corn grower makes each year. It's a decision that warrants careful a comparison of performance data. It should not be made in haste or based on limited data.
Planting a marginal hybrid or one not suitable for a particular production environment imposes a ceiling on the yield potential of a field before it's been planted. In past years of the Ohio Corn Performance Tests, hybrid entries of similar maturity have differed in yield by as much as 60 bu./acre or more depending on test site. Growers should choose hybrids best suited to their farm operation. Corn acreage, previous crop, soil type, tillage practices, desired harvest moisture and pest problems determine the relative importance of such traits as drydown, insect and disease resistance, early plant vigor, plant height, etc.
End uses of corn should also be considered – is corn to be used for grain or silage? Is it to be sold directly to the elevator as shelled grain or used on the farm? Are there premiums available at nearby elevators or from end users for identity-preserved (IP) specialty corns such as food grade or non-biotech corn? Capacity to harvest, dry and store grain also needs consideration. The following are some tips to consider in choosing hybrids that are best suited to various production systems.
1. Select hybrids with maturity ratings appropriate for your geographic area or circumstances. Corn for grain should reach black layer (maximum kernel dry weight) one to two weeks before the first killing frost in the fall. In some years (remember 2009), grain drying can be a major cost in corn production. Use days-to-maturity, growing degree day (GDD) ratings and harvest grain moisture data from performance trials to determine differences in hybrid maturity. This year harvest grain moisture may be of somewhat limited value in assessing differences in hybrid maturity because extraordinarily warm, dry conditions in August and September resulted in rapid drydown. As a result, the grain moisture of early and full season hybrids was often below 20% at harvest and differed little.
2. Choose hybrids that have produced consistently high yields across a number of locations. Choosing a hybrid simply because it's a "triple stack" or "quad stack" or possesses appealing cosmetic traits, like flex ears, will not ensure high yields; instead, look for yield consistency across environments. Hybrids will perform differently, based on region, soils and environmental conditions, and growers should not rely solely on one hybrid characteristic or transgenic traits to make their product selection. The 2009 Ohio Corn Performance Tests revealed that several non-transgenic hybrids suitable for non-biotech grain production produced yields comparable to the highest yielding triple/quad stack entries. However, when planting fields where corn rootworm (RW) and European corn borer (ECB) are likely to be problems (in the case of RW, continuous corn, presence of the rootworm variant; in the case of ECB, very late plantings), Bt traits offer outstanding protection and may mitigate the impact of other stress conditions.
3. Plant hybrids with good standability to minimize stalk lodging. This is particularly important in areas where stalk rots are perennial problems, or where field drying is anticipated. If a grower has his own drying facilities and is prepared to harvest at relatively high moisture levels (>25%), then standability and fast drydown rates may be somewhat less critical as selection criteria. There are some hybrids that have outstanding yield potential but are more prone to lodging problems under certain environmental conditions after they reach harvest maturity.
4. Select hybrids with resistance and/or tolerance to stalk rots, foliar diseases, and ear rots. Consult the Ohio Field Crops Diseases web page at for the most common disease problems of corn in Ohio. In recent years, several diseases have adversely affected the corn crop, including northern corn leaf blight, Stewart's bacterial leaf blight, Gibberella and Diplodia ear rots. Corn growers should obtain information from their seed dealer on hybrid reactions to specific diseases that have caused problems or that have occurred locally.
5. Never purchase a hybrid without consulting performance data. Results of state, company and county replicated hybrid performance trials should be reviewed before purchasing hybrids. Because weather conditions are unpredictable, the most reliable way to select superior hybrids is to consider performance during the last year and the previous year over as wide a range of locations and climatic conditions as possible. However, multi-year data for hybrids is becoming increasing difficult to obtain. If limited to single-year data, it's important to try to evaluate a hybrid's performance across a range of different growing conditions. For example compare the hybrid's performance at test sites where rainfall was adequate with those where rainfall was limited and stress conditions may have occurred. To assess a hybrid's yield averaged across multiple Ohio test sites consult the "Combined Regional Summary of Hybrid Performance" tables. These tables and other results for the Ohio Corn Performance Trial will be available online soon.