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Start smart

Gil Gullickson Updated: 11/02/2012 @ 8:08am Crops Technology Editor for Successful Farming magazine/Agriculture.com

Odds are you've been on the receiving end of this conversation once in your farming career:

“My corn went over 200 bushels this year,” says one neighbor.

“So did mine,” says another. “And my beans went over 70.”

Meanwhile, you slowly feel your jaw and stomach tighten like a finely tuned violin. You wonder why some of your fields' yields crashed.

Field differences definitely surfaced during a droughty 2012. “The variability this year was crazy,” says Jeff Hartz, marketing director for Wyffels Hybrids. “All factors were amplified by the weather.”

Soil differences sometimes played a role. “You could see it even in the same field. Yields would fall off the map in sandy soils that couldn't hold water,” says Hartz.

In some cases, drought likely masked the effects of disease.
“Growers have to realize that it was not only drought that caused the major problems in corn,” says Bob Streit, a Boone, Iowa, crop consultant.

And in other cases, the hybrid could have fallen flat on its face. “What got hammered this year were niche products,” says Dave Thompson, national marketing and sales director for Stine Seeds. These include bin-busting products that normally do well in a tight geography like central Iowa. If dry weather more typical to Nebraska surfaces, these products suffer.

“Our philosophy has been to plant something that is widely adapted and does well year-in and year-out, but that won't be at the top each year,” says Thompson.

What about 2013?

All products promise to be bin-busters, according to company promotional material. In reality, some will be champs and some will be chumps. That's why hybrid and variety selection are the top decisions farmers make, says Fred Below, University of Illinois plant physiologist.

“Too often, emotion makes these decisions rather than rational thinking,” he says. “That is where you can lose the most yield potential.”

Traits have opened up excellent avenues for weed and insect control. Still, don't put them ahead of genetics when selecting seed.

“Start selecting genetics and germplasm before worrying about traits,” says Hartz.

But remember that successful corn and soybean production take a combination of steps.

“You have to start with the right seed,” says Curt Clausen, agronomic services director for DuPont Pioneer. “You need to plant it properly. You need the right soil and growing conditions to get the crop off to a good start. Then, you need to reduce stress as much as possible. Farmers who do these things right are the ones who consistently get good yields.”

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