Hybrid Hunt

October 1, 2009 07:00 PM

There will be no leisurely evenings leafing through corn seed catalogs this year. Early booking discounts put hybrid corn selection on the fall to-do list. A potentially late harvest means you could be picking 2010 seed numbers before you've picked your 2009 corn.

Next spring's planting season is also shaping up to be one for the traits and technology record books. New stacks, new modes of action, new refuge requirements and lots of new numbers are headed to the field. "There's more technology coming [in corn] in the next five years than ever before,” says Tracy Mader, Syngenta's Agrisure marketing manager. "Advances in plant breeding via molecular markers and transgenics are filling pipelines.”

As proof, he points to the 50 new corn products the company is bringing to market in 2010. The goal is to have 100 products in the testing phase per year—double the previous rate.

The life cycle of a product today is three to four years, notes Mike Stern, Monsanto Company vice president for U.S. seeds and traits. "Research shows the average grower is buying up to six hybrids and as many as three brands.

"The market is more complex,” he adds. "But growers are being offered a large portfolio of products to fit their agronomic needs and also to help mitigate their risk.”
Linking with someone you trust is the key, explains Bill Belzer, Pioneer Hi-Bred's senior corn marketing manager. "It's about putting the right product on the right acre and working with growers' sales reps to manage choices.”

A system sometimes helps sort the chaff, says Tom Burrus of Burrus Hybrids in Arenzville, Ill. "When advising growers, we often start with herbicide selection—it significantly narrows the catalog. Maturity range comes next and then, technology,” Burrus says. "From there, we match genetics to soil types and field productivity. How the product is packaged or seed is treated is the final step.”

Choice is good, but confusion can be costly. The need to match hybrids to needs intensifies as seed prices ratchet up, says Joe Lauer, University of Wisconsin agronomist.

"The fundamentals of selecting corn hybrids doesn't really change,” he observes. Here are several tips from Lauer:
  • Use data from multiple locations. Local field days and company trials are helpful, but search for third-party verification. Multiyear data is more difficult to find in this fast-paced selling arena, but it is available from universities and independent advisers.
  • Pick consistent performers. "If a hybrid fails in a trial, make sure you understand why. Next year's environment cannot be predicted, but a hybrid that performs consistently is less likely to disappoint,” Lauer says.
  • Buy the traits you need. It's tempting to load up on technology, but don't forget economics. "Typical corn–soy rotations may not need a corn rootworm trait, for example,” Lauer says. "Seed costs climbing into the $150 per acre range require a sharp pencil. You can grow good corn without transgenic technology if you have good management. Trim costs by using the tech-nology on fields that need it most.”
  • Remember resistance. Rotate herbicide and insect protection. "It's a privilege to grow these transgenic hybrids—they are not merely a convenience to be used until they are useless,” Lauer says.
  • Sever family ties. Siblings in human families differ in strengths and weaknesses. The same is true of corn hybrids, Lauer notes. "For the first time, we are admitting that there are interactions between genes that get transferred in the transgenic process. So just because a hybrid is part of a genetic family, that doesn't mean it is a slam dunk in terms of performance.”

Performance in one area can provide a peek at how the hybrid might perform under other conditions.

The coming season should prove to be a landmark year for new traits in the corn field. Remember that most of the new technology will only be introduced on a limited basis.
What worries Mycogen Seeds agronomy services leader Keith Porter is refuge compliance changes in this new era. Some of the second-generation technology coming to market reduces refuge requirements.

"Refuge reduction is not refuge elimination,” Porter says. "It is critical that we continue to plant the refuge that corresponds to each hybrid. Most of the hybrids that represent reduction will be in small supply for 2010, and we will not replace first-generation insect traits overnight,” he says. "We must shepherd this technology to avoid insect resistance and satisfy regulatory requirements.”

Here are the new traits being incorporated into 2010 hybrids:
  • SmartStax: This trait platform combines above- and below-ground insect protection and resistance to glyphosate and glufosinate. The all-in-one trait package has full clearance and is expected to be planted on 3 million to 4 million acres in 2010—split between the seed providers associated with co-developers Monsanto and Dow AgroSciences. Using SmartStax reduces the refuge requirement to 5% in the Corn Belt and 20% in the southern U.S. Cotton Belt region.
  • Genuity VT Triple Pro: An integral part of the SmartStax platform, this two-gene lepidoptera trait offers a lower refuge option, primarily in the western and southern Corn Belt. It was introduced on a limited scale in 2009 and is undergoing major seed increases for the coming season.
  • Agrisure Viptera: A new mode of action, this vegetative insecticidal protein controls above-ground lepidopteran pests, such as corn earworm, Western bean cutworm, fall armyworm and black cutworm. Upon final approval, it will be stacked with Agrisure 3000GT or Agrisure GT/CB/LL.
  • Optimum AcreMax 1: The first system to integrate the refuge hybrid into the bag, this technology from Pioneer would eliminate the need for a separate corn rootworm refuge by distributing refuge plants throughout the field. A 20% corn borer refuge would still be needed but could be located in another field within one-half mile or in the field using a Herculex RW product. All of the seed in the bag will have glyphosate and glufosinate herbicide tolerance. Upon regulatory approval, Pioneer will release products in existing and new hybrid families.
  • Optimum GAT: A new herbicide-tolerant technology with glyphosate and ALS tolerance. Pioneer plans a controlled 2010 release in corn with final regulatory approvals.

You can e-mail Pam Smith at psmith@farmjournal.com.

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