The line of pickups and cars filing down the dusty country road appears like a movie scene out of the Field of Dreams.
Allen Sasse, Beason, Ill., and his 5-year-old son and future farmer, Tyler Sasse, jot a few notes about new hybrids at a Hoblit field day near Atlanta, Ill.
In farm country, field days are just as much a rite of summer as baseball. For growers like Allen Sasse, Beason, Ill., scouting for new hybrids and varieties in the field is still one of the best ways to develop a seed lineup for the coming season.
“As seed becomes more expensive, it’s even more important to scrutinize selections,” says Sasse. He likes to try new technology, but the company also matters when Sasse goes shopping. “I prefer to deal with firms that have good service and stand behind their seed with good replant policies,” he adds.
Each year some 7000 to 8000 people show up for Becknology Days, a cross between a field day and festival, hosted by Beck’s Hybrids, Atlanta, Ind. There are activities for the entire family, but the events center around a healthy serving of learning opportunities for growers, says Scott Beck.
“We build the days around agronomy tours that look at herbicide plots and tillage comparisons. This year we have a sub-irrigation tile irrigation study that should be very informative,” he adds.
Tom Burrus, Burrus Hybrids, Arenzville, Ill., says the social aspect is good, but it has become increasingly important for seed companies to offer farmers more than a good pork chop to win loyalty. “With the explosion of product choices and technology, growers can be confused as to the products that work best on their farms,” says Burrus.
Hybrid sensitivity to chemicals and recommended refuge choices are examples of information his company shares with growers.
“When advising growers how to select products we often recommend starting with the herbicide program to be used—that narrows down the catalog significantly. As a next step, we look at selecting genetic families that fit your soil type and planting population within the right maturity range. Technology—like disease resistance and rootworm or corn borer protection is next on the scorecard,” he says.
“We also look at how the product is packaged and seed treatment needs. The final part of the decision is selecting the correct refuge hybrid to protect the technology,” he says.
Joe Lauer, University of Wisconsin agriculture agronomist, agrees that local field days and company trials are very helpful, but he urges growers to search for third party verification and multi-year data from universities and independent advisors too.
“If a hybrid fails in a trial, make sure you understand why,” Lauer says. “Next year’s environment cannot be predicted, but a hybrid that performs consistently is less likely to disappoint.”
Lauer asks that growers also avoid loading up on technology for the sake of something new. In my areas of the U.S., typical corn-soy rotations may not need a corn rootworm trait, for example. “Where western corn rootworm variant or the northern corn rootworm with extended diapauses is present, growers should think hard about using Bt-CR technologies to manage these insects,” says Lauer.
“Today’s seed costs require a sharp pencil. Good corn can be grown without transgenic technology if you supply the right management. Using technology only on fields that really need it can help you trim costs,” he adds.
Shepherd the technology by rotating herbicides and insect protection. “It’s a privilege to grow these hybrids,” Lauer says.
Don’t assume a hybrid will perform just because it belongs to a certain family tree. “There are interactions between genes that get transferred in the transgenic process,” he says. “Just because a hybrid is part of a genetic family doesn’t mean it will be a home run in terms of performance.”
Field days are a first good look at what companies have to offer each year, notes Burrus. “Choosing the right hybrids and varieties is one of the few things a grower has control over,” he adds. “Pick a seed company that listens and offers you more than a free lunch.”
Steps in the Hybrid Selection Process
- Begin with trials in zones nearest your farm
- Compare hybrids with similar maturities within a trial
- Evaluate consistency of performance across zones & years
- Compare performance in other unbiased trials
- Consider hybrid performance for other traits, for example, standability, dry-down rate, grain quality, etc.
- Based your decision on more than one or two local test plots.