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Picking top-yielding corn hybrids would be simple if it were just a matter of planting the previous year's best hybrids.

It's not that simple. That hot hybrid that fills your bins this year might fall out of favor in 2008.

"Just because a hybrid performs well on a producer's field this year does not mean it will produce high yields next year," says Roger Elmore, Iowa State University (ISU) Extension agronomist.

That's because environment still plays a large role in hybrid performance. No matter what 2008 brings, its weather patterns will never match those that occurred in 2007. Or 1997. Ditto for 1987. Each year, your crops will encounter a different environment than before.

That makes a confounding decision even more difficult. For you, the stakes have never been higher. There's often a 40- to 50-bushel-per-acre swing between hybrids suited for the same area, says Elmore.

Magnifying this decision is the seed sticker shock you're facing for 2008 seed. Seed companies are hiking some hybrid/trait package prices by double-digit percentages for 2008.

Weighing price versus performance is painful. In the end, though, performance trumps price for Tom Mund, a Milnor, North Dakota, farmer who farms with his son, Scott.

"I hate to say it, but price is irrelevant," says Mund. "When you buy cheap seed, there's a reason it's cheap. For maximum profit and yields, we want the varieties that yield the best, stand the best, and are the most consistent."

So how do you find the top yielders? Elmore and ISU agronomists Lori Abendroth and Jim Rouse recommend assessing hybrid performance across multiple locations.

"If a hybrid performs consistently among the top hybrids at every location it is tested, then it will likely do well next year," explains Elmore. "But if it's not consistent across numerous locations, then we wouldn’t necessarily expect it to do well next year -- even if it did well in one field, in one county."

Many land-grant universities conduct multiple yield locations tests. In ISU's case, it posts yield results online within a few days of harvest. Farmers can compare data from over 380 hybrids. Selecting hybrids using these data will give you a much greater probability of having good hybrids next year, says Elmore.

Besides yield potential, the ISU agronomists say standibility is crucial for maximizing yield potential realized during pollination. Elmore notes some hybrids in the 2005 ISU hybrid trial at Sheldon (in northwest Iowa) lodged from 14% to 100%, depending on the hybrid. On average, this sliced yields by almost 1/2 bushel per acre for every one percent increase in lodging.

Midseason standibility also is important. Elmore notes that Iowa producers must consider a hybrid's resistance to greensnap. Farmers should also consider insect and disease tolerance, he adds.

On-farm test plots are another tool for finding top hybrids.

Kip Cullers, Purdy, Missouri, evaluates over 60 hybrids ranging in relative maturity from 104 to 132 days in his on-farm test plot. Some are current hybrids, while others are hybrids that have been on the market for several years. He also plants prerelease hybrids slated for release by companies in the following year.

For Cullers, performance in his test plot is a big deciding factor. If a prerelease hybrid looks promising, he'll bump up acreage the following year in his regular fields. If this coincides with company and university plots, he'll go all out the next year.

Hot hybrid and trait packages sell quickly. To obtain them, you often have to lock in early in late summer or early fall.

One plus is locking in early enables you to garner early-season discounts. Seed companies often offer eight- to 10% discounts if farmers select by mid-November or earlier.

However, ISU's Elmore, Abendroth and Rouse caution not to hurry picking hybrids.

Here's why. Suppose you buy a bag of $200 seed that's knocked down to $180 from a 10% discount. An 80,000-seed bag will plant approximately 2.3 acres at a 35,000-plants-per-acre population.

The savings is $8.70 per acre. If you sell cash corn at $3, that's just a savings of 2.9 bushels per acre.

If it's a top-performing hybrid, this savings is just icing on the cake. But suppose your hurried search causes you to pick a hybrid that's 50 bushels per acre from the top. Saving 2.9 bushels per acre at a 50-bushel-per-acre yield loss is penny smart and pound foolish.

To beat sticker shock, it's also tempting to take advantage of seed giveaways that companies sometimes use to entice you to plant their seed. Again, don't let this mask performance yield potential.

"The most expensive seed you can ever plant is often the free stuff," says Cullers.

Picking top-yielding corn hybrids would be simple if it were just a matter of planting the previous year's best hybrids.

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