October 1, 2010
Field Crops 28.33 - 82
Pressured to Place that Corn Seed Order? Remember the Basics
Joe Lauer, Corn Agronomist
This time of year growers are
under a lot of pressure to buy seed. Seed salesmen pursue seed commitments through
volume pricing and early purchase incentives often before the current year's
yield trial results are available. Growers often respond by putting a "hold"
on seed orders, but not committing to specific hybrids until yield results are published.
This time of year is difficult because seed salesman must balance supply with demand.
Do not be "sold" hybrids through commercial advertising (radio, TV, magazines,
and newspapers), sales literature, sales pitches from seed dealers, testimonials,
or simply because it is "cheap" or "new" or "transgenic"
or "available" or "different." Choose hybrids wisely by
using comparative yield performance data. Remember the basic principles
of hybrid selection:
- Use multi-location averages to compare hybrids
- Evaluate consistency of performance
- Buy the traits you need
- Every hybrid must stand on it own
- Pay attention to seed costs
Use multi-location averages to compare hybrids
Use multi-location information to evaluate grain yield, grain moisture, and standability.
Today, most universities compile hybrid yield data over multiple locations. They
do this by testing the same set of hybrids at numerous locations. Begin with trials
that are nearest to you. Compare hybrids with similar maturities (harvest grain
moisture) usually within about a 2% range in grain moisture. To ensure genetic diversity
on your farm, divide the trials into two or three groups based upon grain moisture.
Consider single location results (even if the trial was conducted on your farm)
with extreme caution. Use single location information (your own on-farm trial) to
evaluate test weight, dry-down rate, grain quality and ease of combine-shelling
or picking. The way you approach the hybrid selection decision, e.g. single-location
versus multiple-locations, makes all of the difference in subsequent profitability.
For more information regarding selection strategies and predicted yield increase
There are many possible sources of comparative yield performance data including
strip-trials (seed company and independent) and replicated-trials (F.I.R.S.T. and
university). Each source of data has it's own strengths and weaknesses.
What criteria should you select for?
In Wisconsin the two major uses of corn are grain and silage. There has been enough
breeding progress, especially in corn silage, that the criteria for grain versus
silage are different. The most important consideration regardless of use is yield.
For grain, moisture at harvest can often mean the difference between profit and
loss in the northern Corn Belt. For corn silage hybrids, large differences exist
for quality parameters such as starch content and NDFD.
Criteria for Grain Hybrids
Criteria for Silage Hybrids
Forage quality (i.e. Starch content, NDFD, and NDF)
Grain quality (i.e. Test weight, kernel breakage susceptibility)
Evaluate consistency of performance
Look for hybrids that yield consistently across a diverse set of conditions. Be
wary of any hybrids that finish in the bottom half of any trial. Seed companies
benefit greatly from all those on-farm trials that farmers participate in (numerous
weather patterns and pest situations per year). So if you concentrate on your on
farm results (or the local area results), you miss out on the benefits of all the
testing that goes on nationally. Corn breeders define hybrids as "stable"
when they have a minimum of interaction with environments. Most hybrids are stable,
but a few get reputations as "racehorse" or "workhorse" hybrids.
These are difficult to characterize because it takes numerous environments to determine.
Buy the traits you need
Remember that transgenic "traits do not increase yield, they protect yield."
There are pros (safety, efficacy, and insurance discounts) and cons (expense and
resistance potential) to using transgenic traits. Wisconsin is fortunate in that
our landscape often includes alfalfa and pasture as part of our crop rotations.
We can use these crops to help control pest outbreaks and slow development of resistance
to transgenic events. Unfortunately up to this time, it was often difficult to buy
the specific traits that you need. However, this is changing and in the near future
there will be more opportunity to purchase specific traits.
Every hybrid must stand on its own
Every hybrid must "stand on its own" for performance. You don't know
what weather conditions (rainfall, temperature) will be like next year. Just because
it is transgenic and you pay extra for traits does not mean it will be high performing.
We see transgenic hybrids ranked at the top and bottom of a hybrid trial. Therefore,
the most reliable way to predict hybrid performance next year on your farm is to
consider past performance of individual hybrids over a wide range of locations and
climatic conditions. We see large difference among hybrids within a family (see
Table 5 of http://corn.agronomy.wisc.edu/AA/A060.aspx).
Pay attention to seed price
A major change in extension recommendations has occurred recently due to corn seed
costs that have dramatically increased. It is not unheard of for seed of high-performing
premium hybrids with transgenic traits to cost over $250 per bag, whereas 10 years
ago, premium seed would cost about $80-$100. It is important to compare the "difference"
between any two hybrids. A price that is different by more than $50-$100 per bag
must be carefully considered because it is difficult to make up the bag price difference
with increased yield. For a further discussion of this principle, please see
http://corn.agronomy.wisc.edu/AA/pdfs/A073.pdf. Also a seed cost calculator
is available at http://corn.agronomy.wisc.edu/Season/DSS.aspx.
Lauer, J. 2009. Getting a Handle
on Corn Seed Costs. Field Crops 28.424 - 73.
Lauer, J. 2008. Corn Hybrid Selection
Field Crops 28.31-60 PDF.
Lauer, J., and K. Hudelson. 1997.
The University of Wisconsin Corn Hybrid Trials -- Selecting the Top Performers.
Field Crops 28.31-12.