By Bill Halfman
Farmers get pressure earlier and earlier each year to select and order seed for planting next year's crop. It seems like some of the discount deadlines are past before the current year's trials have even been harvested.
Selecting good corn hybrids, soybean, small grain and alfalfa varieties are important steps to next year's profitability. When looking at University corn hybrid trials it is not uncommon to see close to a 70 bushel per acre yield difference between the highest and the lowest yielding hybrids in many of the trials. At $4 per bushel that is a $280 difference per acre in gross revenue. With that in mind it is important to make sure that you do your homework to select hybrids and varieties that have a proven track record. I will use corn as an example in this article, but selecting other crop varieties is a similar process.
When you are pressured to choose this hybrid or that one because the sales rep assures you it will perform well, demand to see the performance data that backs up the recommendation. If you end up with a poor performer it will take some huge discounts to make up the potential loss in revenue described earlier. Remember, the key factor in choosing hybrids for your farming operation next year is documented consistent high performance across several locations against a range of competitors, not simply specific head-to-head comparisons.
How do you identify consistent performers that will likely perform well for you? The secret lies in looking for trials that evaluate hybrids over multiple locations. Multiple testing locations in a single year represent possible weather patterns your farm may encounter in the future. Weather variability influences hybrid performance more than any other variable because weather interacts with most of the other yield limiting factors. If a hybrid performs consistently well over many sites (i.e., weather patterns), then it will likely perform well on your farm in the future.
Most university hybrid performance programs evaluate hybrids over multiple locations plus multiple years within select maturity zones. Several third-party testing groups also evaluate hybrids over multiple sites. Seed companies obviously evaluate hybrids over hundreds if not thousands of sites each year. Seek out summaries over many locations and avoid concentrating on single site results.
Do not get hung up on any particular traits until after you have identified the hybrids that are consistently in the top performing group. The hybrids base-genetics are what provides the yield potential, the added genetic traits are useful for helping protect the crop from pest problems. Once you have identified a group of consistent high-yielding hybrids, further filter them for traits important to your situation. These could include suitability to certain soil types, disease resistance, rootworm protection based on rotation, or some acres that have troublesome weed problems that an herbicide resistant hybrid would help manage. That does not mean you need to spend the money on these traits for all of your acres.
A good resource that illustrates consistently high yielding hybrids are available from conventional to many different levels of added traits is an Agronomy Advice Fact Sheet written by UW Extension Corn Specialist Joe Lauer titled "Buy the Traits You Need." The honor roll of top-performing corn hybrids tested in 2012. This fact sheet along with more information and tools to help with hybrid selection can be found at the UW Extension Corn Agronomy website.
In summary, selecting consistently high performing hybrids and varieties across a variety of locations is the best way to ensure the greatest likelihood of high performance from those crops on your farm in the upcoming growing season. Take the time to look at the numbers from trials across a number of locations to find the hybrids that are consistently top performers and then sort through them to identify the ones with the characteristics and traits to meet your particular needs.
Halfman is the Monroe County Extension agriculture agent.