Corn choice So you liked the hybrids you planted last year. Should you really plant them again? By Philip Shaw and Helen Lammers Helps
arming is a risky business. Each spring, corn growers go to the field and invest thousands in seed, fertilizer, herbicides and more, all in the hope that the crop will grow. We know the odds, and we ante up regardless. The truth, however, is that the odds aren’t the same for everyone. Growers who do a better than average job of picking their hybrids essentially have an ace up their sleeve. If anyone is going to walk away from the table with money in their pockets, it's probably going to be them. There's no news in this. Or maybe there is. In reality, the world has changed with regard to hybrid selection. With the advent of biotechnology, corn hybrids have turned into much more than just “corn.” Bt hybrids were the first to make the jump, but as we look into 2012 there are myriad new traits built into new hybrids that make our purchase decisions that much more difficult. Even with conventional traits, the game is different than it used to be. Improvements are coming faster than ever, which means it can take more effort just to keep up. Hybrids that used to last six or seven years, and sometimes more, now have an average lifespan of just four years. In addition, there’s more than ever for farmers to think about because of changing condition in their own fields, says Dave Den Boer, manager of product development and agronomy with Pride Seeds. “Increased plant residues, adverse weather extremes and the onset of new insects and diseases are new factors that growers need to deal with.” On the plus side, however, the overall field of hybrids is better than it has ever been. Basically, you can’t go too far wrong if you choose from any of the main genetics, says Pat Lynch, a Stratford-based certified crop adviser with an interest in hybrid selection since the 1970s. 42 country-guide.ca
“There’s not as much difference between hybrids as there used to be 10 years ago,” Lynch says. Still, differences of 20 bushels per acre aren’t uncommon, and when Greg Stewart, the Ontario ag ministry’s corn guru, talks about hybrid selection, you can hear the capitals in his voice: “Seed is THE most important input,” Stewart says. Then, you can multiply those yield impacts by today’s corn price, says Scott Fife, area agronomist for Eastern Ontario and the Maritimes with Pioneer Hi-Bred Limited. The result, says Fife, is one of the highest paybacks for any decision you will make all year. Another way to look at it is that all the crop-management decisions you make before or after hybrid selection are focused on protecting the genetic yield potential of the hybrid. You only get one chance to select that basic potential. Plus, selecting the right hybrid gives the best chance for good corn performance no matter what the growing season brings. For example, in 2011, hybrids with excellent emergence and vigour scores paid off as seed was planted in less-thanideal conditions. Hybrid choice nearly had to be vital in a different way too. The delayed planting meant hybrids that were faster to flower would have had a better chance to produce quality grain if there had been an early killing frost. Besides, switching to the newest highyielding hybrid a year earler than the next guy will give you a competitive advantage, says Stewart. “This is part of the art and science of farming,” says Stewart. By looking at the corn performance trial data and on-farm trial results, and diligently sorting out that data, a grower can be planting the new big hybrid before the rest of the township has picked up on it, Stewart continues. In other words, the old days have
disappeared when you could stay with a corn hybrid until you get conclusive onfarm proof that a new hybrid is better. The key in making that move sooner rather than later is getting access to yield data wherever you can, and for that, Stewart and Lynch point first to the Ontario Corn Committee trials found at www.gocorn.net. “It’ll get you in the mood,” says Lynch, who relishes the challenge of trying to pick the winning hybrids. The OCC reports make a good introduction and give some good background information, he adds. They’re also a good place to sort out the various traits without all the confusing company branding. For example, hybrids with resistance to corn borer are labelled B while D denotes hybrids with resistance to corn rootworm, W resistance to Western bean cutworm, etc. However, the most important information sources, in Lynch’s opinion, are the dealer and the company websites. Lynch likes the Pioneer database and hopes other companies will follow suit with a similar format. “Their site has a significant amount of hybrid by population data,” says Lynch. There are some things to keep in mind when reviewing the hybrid comparisons, cautions Lynch. Farmers need to look at the number of trials represented. “A February 1, 2012
Con Borsheim, tomorrow’s CEO ONE-YEAR MACHINERY LEASING CATCHES ON TAKE CHARGE OF YOUR YEAR-END REVIEW FACE IT, WE CAN’T PRODUCE ENOUGH EAST...