Ferrie: The Best Way To Evaluate Seed Corn For 2020

Corn Harvest at Goldenstein farm (test plots) ( Darrell Smith )

While you’re working fast and furious to get this year’s corn crop out of the field, you’re also likely evaluating what you want to plant in 2020. One of the best strategies you can use to evaluate hybrids is to grab a calculator and estimate the return-on-investment for the ones you believe will perform best.

“Return-on-investment is more of a function of yield, not the seed price, so always evaluate hybrid yield potential first,” says Ken Ferrie, Farm Journal Field Agronomist.

For instance, you might pay $30 less a bag for hybrid A than hybrid B this fall, but if hybrid B will out-perform hybrid A by as little as 5 bushels per acre you’d be money ahead next season to go with the higher-priced product (based on 1 bag of seed planting 2.5 acres, and a price of $3.50 a bushel).

Dig deeper. Talking to your seedsman and reading his company literature can give you some insights into product performance, but be prepared to ask more questions to get answers to the nitty gritty details about yield potential--especially for those new-to-you hybrids.

“Sometimes you have to read between the lines to figure out how a hybrid will perform,” Ferrie says. “With disease ratings, which can go from 1 to 9, the company literature might only use the 7 to 9 ratings and nothing lower because they know the competition would pick them apart otherwise. A good seedsman knows this information and will tell you the weaknesses to look out for, where to put that hybrid on your farm or whether you should even grow it.”

While yield potential is king, take into consideration hybrid strengths and weaknesses—like disease and insect resistance, drought tolerance, emergence and standability. “If you identify a top-yielding hybrid, consider how you can farm out its weakness and manage around it,” Ferrie advises.

Plus, because weather conditions change every year, be careful to not select hybrids on what you’re experiencing this season alone. Ferrie says to look at hybrid performance under different weather conditions and growing seasons to gain more perspective.

For example, “If you’d picked all your hybrids for 2014 and 2015 based on the drought of 2012, you would have missed out on some big yields because you would have been too defensive in your lineup,” he explains.

Ferrie shares a couple of scenarios that speak to understanding the hybrid, your growing conditions and your management practices in order to get optimum yield results from your next crop.

Example 1: You’re in Nebraska and have a problem with Goss’s Wilt, for which there is no rescue treatment. You also need a hybrid that offers drought hardiness, but the best-yielding hybrid for your situation requires nitrogen on the back end to make strong yields at the finish line.
Action Steps: “In this scenario, you’re going to arrange your nitrogen program to meet the hybrid’s late-season needs with a nitrogen application or the use of inhibitors,” Ferrie says. “If you can’t or won’t manage late-season nitrogen availability, then keep evaluating hybrids that better fit your management practices and style.”

Example 2: You’re in central Illinois, your cash rents are outrageous, and you need to crank out big yields to pay the bills. You hone-in on a racehorse hybrid you can push the populations on, but it tends to be slow out of the gate and also has a problem with gray leaf spot.

Action Steps: “I’m going to put fertilizer on my planter to get that hybrid out of the ground as fast as I can,” Ferrie says. “Because it’s a slow emerger, I’m also going to look at timing so I plant under as ideal conditions as I can.”

As for the gray leaf spot issue, Ferrie says to evaluate potential benefits of good disease scores but don’t pick hybrids based on scores alone.

“A dog’s a dog no matter how many high disease ratings are hung on it,” Ferrie says. “If I buy a hybrid with a high defensive score for all the diseases I want, it could yield 30-bushel per acre less than what I need. I’ve seen racehorse hybrids loaded with gray leaf that weren’t sprayed out-yield hybrids with better gray leaf scores that were sprayed.

One hybrid that would normally yield 260 got knocked back to 240 because of gray leaf spot, while a resistant hybrid that was sprayed yielded 230 and not sprayed 210 bushels.”

All things equal. Ferrie says decisions based on price can come into play when you find two hybrids that both offer what you need. “You choose the one that will get the job done for the cheapest investment then,” he says.

What about those scenarios when a seedsman tells you he has the exact, high-yielding hybrid you planted this season, and he can sell it to you for $30 less a bag? It’s an opportunity worth checking into, but proceed with caution. Get out this summer while hybrids are still in the field and evaluate yours against the one he’s selling.

“Compare and contrast,” Ferrie advises. “If the seedsman has it in his plot and it’s a foot-and-a-half shorter than yours, with a different leaf structure and a totally different tassel, you know that seedsman’s not correct because, characteristic-wise, those two hybrids don’t match up.”

The flip side is true as well. If the two hybrids seem to match up in characteristics, that’s a promising sign that they could be from the same genetic family, Ferrie says.

As you evaluate hybrids, Ferrie reminds growers to not expect one or two hybrids to carry the weight of your profitability goals for next season.

He recommends setting a goal of selecting hybrids from at least three different maturity groups to fit your fields. “You want an early, mid- and late-season hybrid so you can get diversity of pollination and spread your harvest timing,” Ferrie says. “To keep this diversity, plant your early corn first and your late corn last.”