If you don't spend a lot of time studying multi-location yield data for corn and soybeans, you're losing potential profits.
A pretty strong statement, but ask any corn or soybean agronomist, or other qualified person, and you'll get some pretty strong answers.
“Producers who are seed dealers or growers who buy ‘friendship’ corn or soybean seed from neighbors may, but often don't, select the top-yielding varieties and hybrids available to them,” says Bob Byrnes, Lyon County educator with the University of Minnesota Extension Service.
“Without increasing their production costs at all, or only slightly for some hot new variety or hybrid, they could substantially increase yields and profits,” Byrnes says.
Corn yields in university yield trials can vary as much as 35-45 bu/acre within a maturity group and soybeans as much as 10-16 bu/acre, Byrnes notes. That's based on research from the University of Minnesota, Iowa State University and the University of Wisconsin.
The research also indicates there's a 74% chance that yield will be above average if the highest-yielding varieties and hybrids are selected in those replicated, multi-location yield trials.
Dale Hicks, University of Minnesota extension agronomist, has long been a crusader for more scientifically based corn and soybean seed selections.
“Selecting the top varieties or hybrids increases your net profitability many fold. The reason is that once you decide to plant an acre of soybeans or corn, your production costs are fixed,” Hicks says.
Consider this, Hicks says. Say you have a modest all-farm average of 40 bu/acre of soybeans and it takes 35 to pay production costs. That leaves 5 bu for profit. But what if you improve that by just one bushel? “You've increased your net profit by 20% with just one more bushel per acre,” Hicks points out. “That's key. Smart seed selection is flat out one of the most important things crop growers can do.”
What about on-farm tests and county or company strip tests? On-farm tests are popular with many growers striving to do better, Hicks agrees. He frequently hears, “I did it on my farm under my management conditions, and that's what will work for me.”
Unfortunately, because it's only one location and usually not replicated, that thinking just doesn't hold up. Hicks says for county strip tests you need to look at averages from at least 10 locations to have much confidence in them.
He recommends studying the yield data from at least two, but preferably three, locations in your geographic and maturity area.
“When you study solid yield data from replicated plots at three locations in your maturity area, you have some pretty powerful information,” Hicks believes.
“I challenge growers to buy their corn and soybean seed rather than being sold it,” he says. “I tell them to remember, when they go to pay off the banker, that their seed dealer doesn't go with them.”