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Hybrid selection key component for 2011

Gil Gullickson 01/26/2011 @ 2:01pm Crops Technology Editor for Successful Farming magazine/Agriculture.com

Before 2010, corn was thought to be bulletproof. Great genetics. Amazing insect and weed traits. Precision agriculture technologies that match nutrients with plant needs. With all these tools at your disposal, corn yields would never fall out of bed.

That was the plan, anyway. In 2010, corn yields fell apart in many areas.

“We started out the best year ever,” says Brad Freesmeier, West Point, Iowa. “We got our corn planted on time. The day after we finished planting, it started raining in May and never stopped.”

Around the end of May, the skies cleared to where the region’s farmers were able to replant some flooded corn acres and to plant soybeans. Then, torrential downpours kept coming in June, tallying over 10 inches for the month in many southeastern Iowa locations.

The saying “rain makes grain” didn’t hold true in southeastern Iowa and elsewhere. In Ohio corn trial tests, May and June’s prolific precipitation triggered excessively wet soils. This limited early-season root development and led to shallow root systems and reduced emergence of some hybrids, says Peter Thomison, Ohio State University (OSU) Extension agronomist.

All this played out at harvest. “There were soybeans that out-yielded my corn,” says Freesmeier.

Despite early rosy yield projections, USDA took into account what was happening in many cornfields. Nationally, it lowered its August yield estimate of 165 bushels per acre to 154.3 bushels per acre in November.

So, what will 2011 conditions be like? Truth is, you don’t know. It’s also important to note that in some areas like southern Minnesota, 2010 brought great weather. Regardless of whether 2011 brings black-swan or bluebird weather, the following factors can help you best position your corn.

1. Pick high-yielding hybrids.

“When you pick a high- vs. a low-yielding hybrid, the impact is staggering,” says Thomison. “In some (OSU trial) locations, there is a 67-bushel-per-acre difference between the highest- and the lowest-yielding hybrids.”

So why not just pick the top yielder? Ah, if it were only so simple to do it.

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