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Prescription seeding: What to know
Back in 2010, Josh Van Kooten planted a hybrid in one of his fields that busted the bins with a 240-bushel-per-acre yield. “It was great,” says Van Kooten, who farms near Pella, Iowa. “I planted more of it the next year.”
Things changed, though. The next year’s excessively wet year followed by the drought year of 2012 revealed something else about the hybrid.
“It didn’t handle stress very well,” says Van Kooten. “From then on, I stayed away from it.”
That’s changing, though. Through the years, Van Kooten has used technology to better match hybrids and varieties with specific field characteristics. Pioneer’s Field360 System now enables him to pull up multiyear field maps that aid him in discovering the best hybrids that work on different soil types. The service enables him to pick hybrids that have the best chance of doing well on good soils and to pick those better suited to subpar soils.
“We have partnered with growers to gather millions of acres of harvest data and planting data on a farm,” says Justin Heath, DuPont Pioneer manager of new services. “We can study that data at the field level for each grower to make informed decisions.”
Welcome to the new world of prescription seeding. Companies are using reams of multiyear yield data joined with characteristics like soil type and fertility levels. All this data is creating more product consistency.
“Hybrids and varieties can still explode or implode, but, in general, there is less variability than in the past,” says David Gebhardt, director of data and technology at WinField. “We have more sophisticated and precise tools now to manage the crop and to optimize the yield throughout the season.”
Still, there’s one factor no one can yet pin down: future weather. That’s the missing link that can blow even the best high-tech hybrid and variety selection tool to pieces.
“Weather is the biggest factor you can’t control,” says David Thompson, marketing communications manager for Stine Seed Company. “Everyone has a game plan going into planting.”
Yet, this game plan can melt faster than one belonging to a football team making a first-play fumble. Suppose you get a wet spring. Weeks can pass between planting.
Hybrid planting plans can then quickly change. The ideal hybrid that made sense for an April 15 planting may not make sense on May 7.
“To the extent you can be site-specific is great, but in the long run, it’s better to have genetics that do well across a wide range of conditions,” says Thompson.
Data is also just one tool. Having qualified people to interpret the data is another.
“There is a lot of science in this, but there still is some art,” says Jeff Hartz, marketing director for Wyffels Hybrids. “When we have a new hybrid, we look at plant populations, soil types, field topography, and how it performs across all variables. Even after doing this for two years, it is still hard to make a recommendation based on data alone.”
Even the best-tested hybrids can still have an Achilles’ heel. “Back in the mid-1990s, we had a tremendous hybrid, Pioneer 3394,” recalls Curt Clausen, DuPont Pioneer director for global forages. “It was a top seller for several years, with million of acres planted.”
It also was highly susceptible to gray leaf spot (GLS). Favorable GLS-weather significantly sliced yields of it and other GLS-susceptible hybrids. Even today, it’s important that you scour data like this before planting a hybrid to avoid a similar mishap.
The good news is you can use new and time-tested selection technology to boost the odds of picking the best seed in your favor.