You'd be hard-pressed to find a corn grower who's not itching to get in the fields early every spring. A new line of hybrids, trademarked Early Plant, might one day help growers plant earlier, despite cold spring weather.

Early Plant hybrids are coated with Intellicoat polymer seed coating. This technology is being developed by Landec Ag and used on Fielder's Choice Direct hybrid corn. The coating protects the seed in cold soils, allowing producers to plant corn up to three weeks earlier than normal.

The coating acts as a physical barrier, slowing down water uptake at low temperatures to alleviate chilling damage to the seeds in early spring. Because of the coating's built-in temperature switch, corn is programmed to germinate at the optimum soil temperature.

“This technology lets producers farm more acres with the same equipment and labor resources,” says Alan Barbre, product manager for Landec Ag. “Even with a range of planting dates, fields planted with coated seed will germinate at the same time — when soil and growing conditions are ideal.”

Early Plant hybrids, which aren't commercially available yet, are undergoing extensive company and university testing. In addition, the hybrids will be farmer-tested on over 4,000 acres this summer.

USDA-ARS scientist Russ Gesch and his colleagues tested 95- and 98-day coated and uncoated hybrids at two locations last summer near Morris, MN. They observed the hybrids under conventional- and no-till systems.

At each location, they used a planting rate of 30,000 seeds/acre in 30" rows. The no-till corn was planted March 22; conventional till, March 29. Those planting dates were about a month earlier than extension agents typically recommend for that area, says Gesch.

The researchers report that coated and uncoated seed no-tilled on March 22 started emerging May 1. The coated seed planted conventionally on March 29 started emerging April 27; the uncoated seed April 29.

“We saw big differences in the number of plants that emerged between coated vs. uncoated seed,” recalls Gesch. “There was evidently seed damage from cold weather on the uncoated seed.”

For both early planting dates, coated hybrids yielded 6-28 bu/acre more than uncoated hybrids.

“In our study, the coated seed of the 95-day hybrid planted in March yielded 19 bu/acre more than uncoated seed planted May 1,” says Gesch, who's enthusiastic about the technology.

“The hybrids would extend the window of opportunity for planting and getting fieldwork done. In this part of the country, farmers are often pushed pretty hard late in the spring to get everything planted on time,” he says.