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20 things you need to know about varieties

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.

Buy three different hybrids or varieties from three different companies and they'll all be different, right?

Shattered soybeans bouncing off a combine cab are to a farmer what fingernails on a blackboard are to everyone else. "There is definitely a varietal difference along these lines when it comes to shattering," says Myron Stine, vice president of sales for Stine Seeds.

"The important thing about soybeans is yield," says Sean Elliot, a Chebanse, Illinois, farmer. "But it's also important to me that they combine well. Some soybean varieties have green stems that make them very hard to harvest. It is hard on everything, including augers, pulleys, and other parts of the combine. When soybeans come right off the stem and out of the pod, you use less fuel and save time combining."

One way to prevent buying look-alike varieties and hybrids is to do business with one company.

"After last year, producers are watching drydown (of hybrids) a lot more," says Sean Elliot, Chebanse, Illinois. "Last year, it cost 6 to 7 cents per bushel per (percentage) point of drying. So if you had to dry down 3 points to drydown, that could be up to 21 cents per bushel. With 200-bushel corn, that's a $42-per-acre cost."

"A lot of times, farmers will say, 'Yes, yield is the number one thing that I look for,'" says Bruce Battles, agronomy marketing manager for Syngenta Seeds.

View a corn yield curve over the last decade or so, and you'll see corn trend line yields increase around 2.7 bushels per year. Good genetics, right?

Soybean diseases like Sudden Death Syndrome (SDS) and white mold occurred often in 2009.

Soybean cyst nematode-resistant varieties have worked well in battling SCN. Still, SCN resistance in around 97% of resistant varieties has the same resistance source -- PI 88788. In some cases, SCN resistance to resistant varieties has surfaced.

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