Small seed corn has some big advantages over larger kernels, says Ernie Mehl.
"It lowers my per-acre cost, because each bag of small seed is usually priced $2 to $5 lower than its large-sized counterpart," says Mehl, who grows 1,400 acres of corn near North Platte, NE.
He also figures that each bag of small seed goes a little farther in the field because there are about 100,000 small kernels in each bag vs. 80,000 kernels in a bag of large seed.
"Those extra kernels in each bag are enough to plant an additional two-thirds to three-fourths of an acre," points out Tim Cupka, western regional agronomist with Asgrow Seed Co.
In addition to the cost savings, Mehl says bags of small seed are easier to handle, transport and store. They also give him more time between planter-box fills.
"Using small-sized seed is one way I can save time and money without sacrificing yield or quality," he says. "I've planted small and large seed side-by-side in the same field and have never seen a difference in stand or yield."
By always planting seeds of the same size, the Nebraska grower doesn't have to interrupt planting to adjust the plates on his vacuum planter.
"The only time I'll plant large seeds is when the hybrid I want isn't available in small seeds."
Several university and seed company tests verify that performance is determined by the genetic makeup of the hybrid and the physiological quality of the seed, not the size or shape of the kernel.
"Larger kernels may produce slightly larger seedlings and small kernels might emerge a little faster, but those factors have no effect on final stand or yield," says Lee Hardman, University of Minnesota extension agronomist.
"Small seed is every bit as good as medium- or large-sized seed. But some farmers, like most people, tend to think bigger is better," adds Asgrow's Cupka.
In fact, small seeds actually have an advantage in dry conditions, he says.
"The smaller seeds will actually germinate and emerge slightly faster than their larger counterparts because they don't need to imbibe as much moisture to begin that process."
On the other hand, large seeds have the advantage in very cool or wet soils because they have more starch reserves.
"That extra starch gives large kernels a little more time to work their sprouts through the soil before they run out of energy," says Cupka.