Corn Countdown

March 18, 2010 07:00 PM

Pam Smith, Farm Journal Seeds & Production Editor
The life of a corn plant begins and ends with a seed. You're wrong if you think you're the only one eyeing the wet fields with both nervous apprehension and anticipation.
"The race to produce corn hybrids is a year round project that really goes into high gear in the spring as we plant yield trials, nursery and experimental seed production,” says Fritz Behr, vice president of research for Wyffels Hybrids. Based in Geneseo, Ill., Wyffels is one of the few independent seed corn companies left in this consolidating industry. The fact that they maintain their own breeding program adds to the company's unique place in the market.
This time of year you'll find Behr and his staff counting out experimental hybrids and organizing planting boxes for yield trials. Target planting date is April 20, but seed companies have as much control over the weather as you do. Nearly 100,000 different research plots will be planted and evaluated to see if they are worthy of being advanced through the Wyffels pipeline.
Behr says specially designed four-row and eight-row air planters are standard equipment for planting seed plots today. Wyffels field technicians pride themselves in planting to stand with a final target of 36,000 to 38,000 plants per acre. Tractors have auto steer to eliminate "guess rows.”  Technology has eliminated overplanting and hand thinning with dandelion diggers, as well as many other labor intensive practices.
"Theory, trial and error have shown four row plots and micro-strip plots to be effective in helping corn breeders to identify superior corn hybrids,” Behr says. "Today most testing is one rep per location with more overall locations. Testing in multiple locations may be the biggest contribution in predicting a really good hybrid.
"The biggest challenge is we're trying to anticipate what environment the product we're developing will be grown in five to 10 years down the road,” he adds.
Listen in as Fritz Behr describes getting ready for the 2010 research season.

You can email Pam Smith at

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