Plant your own test plots to check out hybrids under your soil conditions and management practices.
Avoid errors that slash yield even before you plant
Think of seed selection as profit enhancement. Even if you do everything else right, from tillage through marketing, you lose yield and profit if you plant a hybrid that isn’t right for your soil types and conditions. That crucial decision process begins with your own fields and local test plots.
Seed selection provides ample opportunity for expensive mistakes. Farm Journal Field Agronomist Ken Ferrie has witnessed most of them. Here are the 10 mistakes he most frequently sees—so you can avoid them.
1. Putting price over performance. "Don’t spend more time looking for the best price than for the best hybrids," Ferrie advises. "Smart growers talk about what a hybrid did for them, not how cheap the seed was.
"If I ask a grower what hybrids he is going to plant and he reels off a list of maturity ranges, rather than specific hybrids or traits, I know he spent too much time looking for the best deal and too little time seeking the best performers," Ferrie says.
2. Neglecting to spread risk. This mistake can take several forms. One is planting the majority of your acres to one or two outstanding hybrids. "That may be OK in southern regions where growers have a long window to spread out their planting," Ferrie says. "In the Midwest, where many farmers plant all their corn in five to seven days, it creates an unacceptable risk. Their corn will pollinate at the same time, making all of it subject to heat and other stresses."
Despite your best efforts, you may not know how a new hybrid will respond to every weather situation. "Not long ago, one hybrid had two big years, so growers planted a lot of it the following season," Ferrie says. "Only then did they discover that the hybrid couldn’t handle 96°F temperatures during pollination and ear fill—it got kicked in the teeth on yield. That hybrid still won a lot of plots that year, but only in northern areas, where temperatures were cooler. If a disease problem had shown up, growers could have managed it by applying a fungicide; but you can’t manage against heat.
"It is fine to plant the hottest hybrid, but not on too many of your acres. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket," Ferrie advises.
Another reason to diversify genetics is green snap, which occurs when corn grows really fast during a short period of time and the plants become brittle.
"If you plant one hybrid in a limited window of time, many of your fields will be subject to green snap if you experience high winds while the plants are sensitive," Ferrie says.
3. Failing to use test plots. The purpose of test plots is to help guide your seed choices for next year. But you must know the right way to use the information.
"First, understand the difference between show plots and test plots," Ferrie advises. "Don’t make your seed choices based only on show plots. Show plots have value in demonstrating higher-end genetics. But they are planted next to a road to show off hybrids in ideal conditions.
"Show plots may have received extra nitrogen and two fungicide applications. If you don’t sidedress nitrogen or apply fungicides on your own farm, show plot results may be meaningless to you."
Study actual test plots that were planted with soil, climate and management practices similar to your own. Taking factors like these into account may add another 15 bu. or 20 bu. per acre, compared with picking hybrids based on general plot performance, Ferrie says.
- Seed Guide 2011