Picking the best hybrids for your farm requires experience, research and building relationships with advisers you can trust. An unusual growing season, such as 2009, makes the task even more challenging. Here are a few tips from experts to keep in mind as you review your hybrid choices for 2010.
Goodbye, old favorite. Ten years ago, you were fairly safe sticking with your old favorite hybrid. Nowadays, hybrids disappear before they can even earn that title.
"Hybrids are improving so rapidly that they go obsolete in three or four years, superseded by new genetics,” says Dale Sorensen, a technology development manager for Monsanto Company. That's not a bad thing, he adds, because rapid breeding progress is increasing average yields by 1½ bu. to 2 bu. per acre per year.
"You can't rely solely on your own experience anymore, either,” adds Farm Journal Field Agronomist Ken Ferrie. "You must use other sources of information.”
Field-by-field matchup. "The first step in selecting hybrids is to understand what we call your ‘key environments,'” says Brent Wilson, technical services manager for Pioneer Hi-Bred. "Is a field droughty or poorly drained? How has it been managed? Has the fertility been drawn down by previous operators? Has it been in continuous corn or a rotation? These things can make a hybrid perform differently on a given soil type.”
Ask yourself if there is anything odd or unique to each field, Wilson continues. "Does the field have high insect pressure, for example? Or is it a low-lying creek bottom where you are likely to get foliar diseases?”
Some hybrids are better for narrow rows, and some do better in no-till situations. Others are best suited for conventional tillage.
"Hybrids have different preferences for nitrogen timing—some prefer high amounts of preplant nitrogen, while others prefer high amounts of sidedress nitrogen,” says Mike Kavanaugh, agronomy manager for AgriGold. "Some are better at maintaining ear, root and stalk integrity at higher populations.”
Don't forget about maturity, Wilson says.
"Consider whether you'll be harvesting a field early to meet a fall grain contract or whether it will need to stand well for later harvest.”
The maturity issue gets into personal preferences, Wilson adds. "Some growers feel that if they go to early hybrids, they are giving up yield potential, so they stay with full-season hybrids,” he says. "Others hate dealing with wet corn and want to be able to harvest early. If it was my farm, I'd want to spread maturities.”
- January 2010