A classic bit of cowboy wisdom is, "Never change horses midstream." With crop production, that sentiment isn’t always true, however. Faced with a late enough delay, switching to a shorter season corn hybrid or even to soybeans is the more profitable decision.
The trick is knowing when to pull the trigger. What’s the best way to know when swapping out a hybrid is a good idea or a bad mistake?
One thing’s for certain – the decision is never an easy one, says Illinois farmer Cory Ritter. Last year, due to historically cold and wet spring weather, he planted until June 9. After a lot of thought, he decided not to switch hybrids.
"If I had to do it over, I would have switched from a 115-day hybrid to 108 or so," he says. "Every year is different, and it’s such a hard decision. It all depends on current weather, forecast and markets."
Tips Before You Switch
Consider multiple factors to set a hybrid switch strategy. For example, the University of Wisconsin recommends five factors in particular that will help farmers make a more informed decision:
1. Desire to accept risk. Longer season hybrids can offer higher yield potential, but increased drying costs or a delayed harvest could erode profits.
2. Potential use. For dry grain, relative maturities should be shorter-season within the maturity range for the latest acceptable planting date. For ear corn, high moisture corn, and silage, relative maturities should be longer-season within the maturity range for the latest acceptable planting date.
3. Field conditions. Have heavy crop residue, reduced tillage and/or heavy soil textures? A shorter-season hybrid might be the best option.
4. Hybrid dry-down and grain-quality characteristics. When planting longer-season hybrids within the latest acceptable planting dates, make sure they have fast grain dry-down and high test-weight characteristics.
5. Ease of trading original hybrids for superior shorter-season alternatives.
For the past 18 years, DuPont Pioneer has tried to determine the best date to switch to shorter-season hybrids in five U.S. corn-growing regions. Agronomists say the results of these trials, conducted from 1987 to 2004, suggest their findings recommend switching hybrids much later than most farmers might think.
For example, in the Central Corn Belt (NE/IA/IL/IN), trial results showed farmers would benefit staying with full-season hybrids all the way up until May 27. Switching to an earlier maturity hybrid before this date did not lead to higher yields or profits, according to the study.
Sprint vs. Marathon
Mark Grundmeier, product manager with Latham Hi-Tech Seeds, tells his customers to approach planting season like a marathon rather than a sprint.
"Highly competitive runners have to deliberately pace themselves," he says. "They also have to avoid jumping the gun. This applies to farming, too. Corn planted in early June can make decent yields, and there’s no need to switch from corn to soybeans until after that."
When farmers switch maturities, they have essentially decided to lower their yield expectations, Grundmeier says. Trading in for shorter-season maturities does pay off in extreme cases, but avoid making extreme switches when possible, he adds.
"You don’t need to take it to the extreme and switch from a 109-day to an 85-day hybrid, for example," he says. "Switch to hybrids that are about 5 to 7 relative maturity units earlier than full season for the region. I can tell you with confidence that full-season hybrids and varieties outperform early maturing hybrids and varieties."
Case in point – remember Ritter’s corn that was planted June 9?
"We ended up with the best corn crop we have ever had," he says.