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A lot of focus these days is placed on yield. Yes, yield is important — it pays the bills — but there’s so much more to learn from a hybrid plot than merely bushels per acre. Yield is a function of genetics but, as Farm Journal Field Agronomist Ken Ferrie points out, it’s also a function of how the genetics performed a particular year and in a particular climate.
Observing hybrids in a plot on a weekly or biweekly basis through harvest can provide insights on plant characteristics such as leaf structure, leaf size, tassel type and plant height.
“Pick a variety you’re familiar with and use it as your ‘ringer’ to compare all other varieties,” Ferrie recommends. “Create a hybrid yearbook and document similarities and differences throughout the season. That includes taking photos. The more you know about the hybrid the easier it is to find the correct placement.”
1. Why does leaf structure matter? Leaves capture sunlight — and it’s important to capture about 95% of sunlight by the time the tassel comes out, Ferrie explains. Any sunlight that hits the ground is wasted energy.
Leaf structure can be a challenge to classify because there isn’t a common nomenclature among companies. Ferrie has identified four leaf structures/hybrids:
- Pendulum: Leaves are pendulum all the way to the top of the plant, a lot of times the tassel will be out by itself and the very top leaf is horizontal.
- Semi-pendulum: Leaves are pendulum to the ear or slightly passed.
- Upright: Leaves are upright at the base all the way to the top of the plant and the upper leaves are oftentimes almost parallel with the tassel
- Semi-upright: Leaves are pendulum at the base of the plant but turn upright before the ear.
Identifying leaf orientation helps determine the right hybrid based on factors such as row spacing, water availability and soil type. For example, a pendulum leaf structure allows a lower plant population to capture the necessary sunlight in a water-tight situation.
2. Document leaf size and width compared with the ringer. Take the ear leaf from all the genetics in the plot. Some genetics have broad wide leaves at the base and others are narrow at the top. Some have narrow leaves from top to bottom.
3. Compare tassel type to ringer. “You’ll see five or six, maybe seven, types, in a hybrid plot,” Ferrie says. Tight or condensed tassel? Large spikes with a few outlying branches? Congested?
4. Look at plant height and how it compares to the ringer. Is a hybrid taller or shorter? Remember, to have a true comparison, hybrids need to be planted the same day and at the same row spacing and population, Ferrie says. “A 1’ or 2’ difference in height is an indicator the hybrids are not genetically the same,” he adds.
In addition to plant characteristics, it’s important to observe maturity, insect pressure and disease resistance as well as stalk quality later in the season.
Ken Ferrie shared insights via presentation at Farm Journal Field Days. Log on to watch the replay of “Understand How to Match Hybrid Characteristics with Your Fields.” After registering, click the Stage link in the top navigation to find the session from Aug. 25.
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