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Don't let drought short your 2013 plans

Gil Gullickson 10/01/2012 @ 11:19am Crops Technology Editor for Successful Farming magazine/Agriculture.com

It's tempting to hunker down after a year like 2012 and expect the worst for next year. After all, it's human nature to pull in your agronomic horns after enduring one of the worst droughts since 1936.

Planning for another tough year may be a self-fulling prophecy, though.

“I always tell farmers, ‘Manage for a bad year, and you will have a bad year,' ” says Bruce Kettler, director of public relations for Beck's Hybrids. “One thing we emphasize is to not make decisions on next year's crop based solely on what happened this year. Plan on normal for next year.”

That's what Steve Hansen of Audubon, Iowa, plans to do.

“I will try and swing for the fence again next year,” he says. “Weather is just a shot in the dark. I can't outguess it.”

There's a chance drought may continue into 2013. “But if you manage for a good year, you can make adjustments later on – with fertilizer, seed, and other inputs – based on what the year looks like,” says Kettler.

Here are four steps to take as you plan your corn strategy for 2013.

1. Pick hybrids wisely

Before each growing season, Hansen sits down with his Channel seed dealer, Dustin Fouch, to select hybrids. “Not every hybrid is the same,” says Fouch. “Some work better on different types of soils than others.”

That's not as easy as it sounds.

A seemingly uniform field often has five to six soil types, says Fouch.

“In some fields, there can be up to 20 different soil types,” he says. “Lots of times, though, there is a prominent type in the field, making up 75% of the field.” That is the soil type you'll want to match your hybrid to, he adds.

Planting a mix of hybrids still applies as a sound strategy. A hybrid package can help you roll with the punches of variable weather.

“There are versatile hybrids that will be right in the middle of the pack for yield in a good year,” says Fouch. “But in a bad year, they will weather the storm better than others.”

Meanwhile, fast-growing racehorse hybrids work well on heavier ground in years with optimal moisture, he notes.

In 2012, every hybrid planted in drought environments was hit, says Kettler. One point to remember, though, is hybrid rooting performance. If 2013 is dry, hybrids that exhibited good rooting characteristics in 2012 can be a hedge against drought.

“This year, with dry weather, it's been important to put down a good root system. In dry environments, some hybrids put down roots better than others,” explains Kettler.

Yield potential is the top factor Hansen and Fouch consider when picking hybrids. Ditto for disease resistance.

“A lot of farmers don't want to spray fungicides, so we do pick hybrids with good disease resistance,” says Fouch.

Standibility also plays a part. “A hybrid won't do you any good if it's lying on the ground,” says Fouch.

Fouch recalls one bin-busting hybrid in 2009 that formed huge ears. “It was definitely a racehorse,” says Fouch. “We just thought it was the next big thing. It yielded up to 240 bushels per acre.”

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