Before you even set foot in the field, you’re going to make the decision that has the single biggest impact on your corn yield. You stand to gain or lose as much as 30% to 50% of yield on a choice you can make from your kitchen table.
“There’s no other agronomy practice that affects yield as much as hybrid selection,” explains Jeff Coulter, University of Minnesota Extension corn agronomist.
In fact, in hybrid trials at the University of Minnesota and the University of Wisconsin, the gap between highest- and lowest-yielding hybrids in a plot is typically about 70 bushels per acre. In Iowa trials, the average spread is about 60 bushels per acre, and in Ohio, it’s a still-impressive 40 bushels.
Read trial data from a variety of plots — in a variety of locations, especially if you can’t get results from multiple years — to give yourself a good idea of how different hybrids handle a variety of conditions. Did the hybrid perform well not only where rainfall was adequate, but also in trials that suffered from drought stress?
University trials can be a good resource, but can lack product depth and longevity — especially since the lifespan of a hybrid is now 3.5 years. For deeper insight into how a particular number performs, consult various seed dealers. They have probably seen data from more years, as well as results from other states.
Once you’ve collected enough trial data, focus on the variables in each field that could make the biggest difference in your choice of hybrid:
- soil type and drainage
- growing degree days and days to maturity
- history of disease
- and insect problems
- tillage program
- row spacing — upright leaves may capture more light in narrow rows
- drought tolerance
- resistance to lodging and greensnap
- standability and stalk strength
- staygreen (the ability to stay healthy late in the season)
- test weight