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Mix & Match: How to choose a smart seed portfolio

Each year, seed salespeople beat a path down your corn and soybean rows pitching their products' perks.

At this point, all varieties and hybrids are tops.

In reality, though, they can't all do well. How do you know which ones will?

"Hybrids are a lot like children," says Bruce Battles, Syngenta Seeds agronomy marketing manager. "You can have two blond-haired, blue-eyed kids who look the same but are internally geared differently. One can be bouncing off the walls; one can be very methodical."

Corn hybrids are the same way, Battles says. They can react differently to high populations, nitrogen, or postemergence herbicides. Matching the wrong hybrid with the wrong field or environment is a recipe for the poorhouse.

Ditto for soybean varieties. A bin-busting variety one year can flop the next if the environment exposes a weakness, such as disease susceptibility, that's not protected by variety tolerance or resistance.

The good news is you now have modern technology on your side.

"Hybrid selection has changed with the computer and yield monitors," says Sean Elliot, a Chebanse, Illinois, farmer, who farms with his parents, Randy and Linda. "We had one last year that had a skinny cob with deep kernels that hid its yield. In the old days, we would have thought it was a poor yielder. With the yield monitors, we could see it was one of our top yielders."

Elliot also uses Ag Leader SMS Advanced mapping technology to sort through the hundreds of existing hybrids and varieties to find the ones that fit the Elliots' farm. He overlays soil maps on yield maps to assess on-farm variety performance. On corn, he also uses the technology for research, fertility prescriptions, and liming applications.

Yield potential is the top consideration for picking hybrids and varieties, says Elliot. Certain situations, though, require other selection criteria. For corn on corn, he picks hybrids with strong disease resistance. He plants long-season 112- to 115-day hybrids first on faster-drying sandy soils, followed by 104- to 110-day hybrids on heavier, slower-drying soils.

Drydown and standibility also are key perks, particularly after a soggy 2009. In soybeans, smooth harvesting is key, along with Sudden Death Syndrome tolerance.

Then there's price. "It's a pretty big factor now. I remember five years ago when the price was $65 to $70 per bag for corn," says Elliot.

In the case of SmartStax, available for 2010, prices may tally up to $400 per bag for this eight-way trait package that contains six insect-resistant traits and two herbicide-resistant traits, and a 5% refuge level compared to the previous 20% level. However, actual price paid for SmartStax hinges upon location and early cash discount programs, says Jenny Boyd, DeKalb marketing manager.

Elliot plans to plant a share of his corn acres to SmartStax in 2010. He is slicing costs via early order cash discounts.

Each year, seed salespeople beat a path down your corn and soybean rows pitching their products' perks.

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