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How to keep traits straight

Gil Gullickson 11/01/2011 @ 10:29am Crops Technology Editor for Successful Farming magazine/Agriculture.com

Seed corn buying used to mimic a leisurely Sunday afternoon drive through the countryside. Today, though, deciphering a complex menu of trait-laced hybrids resembles zipping through a busy freeway at rush hour.

“Companies have come out with lots of new ones in the last three years,” says Clarke Kelso, a Macomb, Illinois, farmer, who farms with his brother, Kurt. “It's confusing because there are so many of them.”

The plethora of insect-resistant and herbicide-tolerant traits magnifies the difficulty of picking the best seed mix for your farm. There are more coming, too.

“As fast as things have moved in the industry, they will move a lot faster in the next five to 10 years with multiple traits in more hybrids and more adapted germplasm,” says Eric Anderson, a Syngenta agronomic service representative.

New insect-resistant and herbicide-tolerant traits offer new choices for protecting your hybrids. On the flip side, more trait choices can create more confusion.

This is compounded by this summer's finding of rootworm resistance to a form of Bt corn. Aaron Gassmann, an Iowa State University entomologist, and three other entomologists published a July 2011 paper confirming field-evolved resistance by western corn rootworm to the Cry3Bb1 protein. This is the Bt trait found in Monsanto's single-gene YieldGard corn. That's led many of you to ponder if you can expect your trait package to protect your corn from corn rootworm in 2012.

Genetics first

So what should you do? Remember that before you even think about traits, concentrate on hybrids first.

“You want to find a product that fits your soil type and performs in your environment. And then protect it with the best traits you can find,” says Sonny Beck, president of Beck's Hybrids. “Traits are simply meant to protect yield.”

That's not so easy. “Sometimes, you have to go back to the basics and know what you're dealing with,” says Kelso. “We tend to plant the old reliable ones that we know a lot about.”

One downfall with this is hybrids and varieties churn out of company line-ups faster than a salmon swimming through a rapid stream. So how do you deal with it?

“We don't,” says Kelso. “We rely on seed people to come up with hybrids and varieties with different choices.”

“You need a partner,” adds Bill Belzer, senior marketing manager of Pioneer Hi-Bred's North America corn division. “We work hard to train our local sales representatives to help producers understand what these hybrid and trait combinations mean.”

Then come traits

After that, it's time to look at traits. The 11 recommendations on these pages will help you match hybrids with traits for 2012 and beyond.

Making this match can be difficult. In difficulty, though, lies opportunity. Getting these choices right can give you an advantage over competitors.

“Figure out how to do the hard stuff, because not everyone will do it,” points out Mike Boehlje, a Purdue University agricultural economist.

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