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Improve resilience of corn hybrids to counter changing climate pattern

Improve resilience of corn hybrids to counter changing climate pattern
Think about corn hybrid choices carefully to hold down input costs.

If you're already fretting about how to cut input costs for 2016, Bob Nielsen says the place to start is by spending more time talking to your seed dealer before ordering hybrids.

Related: 13 money-saving questions to quiz your seed corn dealer on

"Select hybrids that can withstand a wide range of conditions and still perform well," the Purdue University Extension crop specialist says.

Speaking to farmers gathered at Ken Simpson's farm near Morristown, Nielsen said it appears the climate is changing. "Each year brings another round of 'this is the most extreme year we've ever had," he says.

Manage for next year now: Bob Nielsen believes you can tighten the belt for next year's crop by doing a more careful job of ordering seed right now.

"The weather problem reinforces the need to work toward ways of improving the resilience of our crops," he says.

Seedsmen know that some hybrids handle stress better than others. One-on-one your seedsman will likely tell you what hybrids will do well on rolling soils, which often see more stress, and which ones won't do as well.

Now is the time to ask those questions, Nielsen says. His overall goal is to help farmers reduce input costs wisely without sacrificing yield. It's a reaction to extremely low corn prices.

How does selecting hybrids carefully relate to reducing input costs? "For one thing you may not need a fungicide application if hybrids have resistance to foliar leaf diseases," Nielsen says.

Foliar diseases which showed up this year included gray leaf spot and northern corn leaf blight. Northern corn leaf blight is more likely in northern counties since it is favored by cooler temperatures.

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'We don't see a payback in our tests for a fungicide application if the hybrid is resistant," says Kiersten Wise, Purdue Extension disease control specialist. In fact on Simpson's farm in 2014, she saw no difference in yield between where fungicides were applied and where they weren't applied on hybrids that are truly resistant to foliar diseases.

Related: Foliar disease phased, but not stopped, by fungicide

That doesn't mean that even resistant hybrids won't have some lesions of either gray leaf spot or northern corn leaf blight on them if conditions favor disease during the growing season, she notes. But if hybrids are truly resistant the lesions should remain small, and not grow together and cause severe damage to leaves which results in less photosynthetic activity for corn plants.

What about rating systems? Is there a standardized rating system all companies use to determine if a hybrid is resistant, very tolerant or tolerant to specific diseases. Unfortunately, the answer is no.

Here's where you must rely on your seedsman, Nielsen says. Tell him or her you want hybrids that have enough resistance that they won't need to be sprayed with a fungicide. That will help hold down input costs next year, he says.

The problem with rating systems used by some companies is that they are designed to reflect performance over a broad area of the country, Wise notes. A hybrid with 'good' resistance in general may not make it through the season without disease infection in an area where conditions are typically more favorable to disease.

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