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20 things you need to know about varieties

Agriculture.com Staff 02/09/2010 @ 10:22am

Dale Hicks, retired University of Minnesota Extension agronomist, often advised farmers to consider four factors when selecting corn hybrids during his four-decades-long career: "Yield, yield, yield, yield. And if there's a fifth factor, it would be yield, too."

That also applies to soybeans. "The majority of yield potential in soybeans is due to variety selection," says Shannon Hauf, Monsanto chemistry team lead, who has led trials to boost soybean yields.

No doubt. But how do you go about picking the highest yielders? The reality is that varieties and hybrids are like everything else in life – there are winners and losers.

Plus, there are other factors besides yield that can influence your decision. In 2009, standibility was a huge factor. High yield didn't pay off for corn hybrids laid flat on the ground while farmers waited in vain for sopping-wet fields to freeze so they could combine. Conversely, soybean diseases like white mold and Sudden Death Syndrome crimped soybean varieties with high-yield potential.

On these pages are some things to consider when pairing yield potential with other critical seed attributes.

Dale Hicks, retired University of Minnesota Extension agronomist, often advised farmers to consider four factors when selecting corn hybrids during his four-decades-long career: "Yield, yield, yield, yield. And if there's a fifth factor, it would be yield, too."

Full-season corn hybrids and soybean varieties pack more maximum yield potential than medium and shorter-season ones. "We see a 5% to 8% yield loss by planting a short-season soybean variety compared to a full-season one," says Palle Pedersen, Iowa State University Extension agronomist.

It's often tempting to consider hybrid and variety performance from tests on or near your farm when making next year's selection. Still, this doesn't account for the fact that growing seasons can differ widely between years, says Jim Rouse, executive director of the Iowa Crop Improvement Association.

Dennis P. Smith, Ames, Iowa, plants lots of corn on corn. Thus, he wants hybrids that fare well under continuous-corn conditions.

Make sure the hybrids and variety trials you evaluate are done under uniform locations.

Your grandfathers and even your dads must be amazed by today's traits.

"I try to match the hybrids with soil type," says Bryan Kirkpatrick, a farmer and seed dealer from Greentown, Indiana. He places those racehorse, fast-growing hybrids on good, well-drained soils. However, he doesn't place them on rolling or less-productive ground. He instead plants hybrids better suited for more difficult growing conditions.

It's OK to get a dreamy smile when you think about the corn hybrid that last year yielded 50 bushels per acre better than anything else on your farm. Just don't bet the farm on it.

Traits are a valuable tool and can protect great genetics. For example, a rootworm trait makes sense in areas prone to corn rootworm infestations. In soybeans, aphid-resistant traits on tap for this year and later may prevent a later foliar insecticide application and preserve yields.

Corn traits do a great job of fending off insects. Still, don't write off conventional hybrids with natural resistance you can buy for less money. "We have had cases where a conventional hybrid with native resistance to (European) corn borer outyielded (insect) traited corn by 20 bushel per acre," says Ed Winkle, a Martinsville, Ohio, crop consultant.

"We price according to value" is the familiar rap you'll get from seed companies when it comes to asking them how much their seed costs.

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