Choosing hybrids that will best match your farm can be one of the most crucial decisions you'll make this winter, say university agronomists. And the most profitable.

“I'm convinced growers can increase corn yields 10 bu./acre by being a little judicious on choosing hybrids,” says Dale Hicks, extension agronomist, University of Minnesota.

Len Nelson agrees: “There are so many hybrids and companies to choose from, the biggest challenge is to get ahead of the curve and make good decisions.” Nelson, an agronomist and professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, coordinates statewide variety tests for corn, soybeans and other crops.

He says there are lots of information sources and you should use them all to make decisions. Both Nelson and Hicks suggest that public testing provides an impartial first look at hybrids from a variety of companies.

Hicks suggests gathering small-plot replicated trial information from universities and independent studies such as F.I.R.S.T. (Farmers Independent Research of Seed Technologies). Then group hybrids by maturity and rank them from high to low based on yield.

“Statistically, selecting a few of the highest-yielding hybrids in that maturity group increases their chances of yielding above average next year,” says Hicks.

Both experts suggest that, once you've selected your top-yielding hybrids, you can consult company literature to find out about each particular hybrid.

“Seed company agronomists and plant breeders do a great job — we trained them — but the seed dealer doesn't go with growers when they pay off their bankers' notes at the end of the crop season,” says Hicks. “They're in this game by themselves. Other production costs are pretty well fixed, but anything they can do to increase yield makes a big difference in profitability.”

When selecting hybrids, Hicks says there are three important criteria: “Yield, yield and yield. Other traits are important, but it's harvestable yield that has the most impact.” According to his research, a good yielding hybrid is a good yielding hybrid. So if you can choose the top performers you should be in good shape no matter what the growing environment is like next year.

“Yield is what you haul to the elevator at the end of the year,” agrees Nelson. And lodging, breakage, dropped ears — anything that affects how much you get to keep vs. how much falls on the ground — is also important. If disease is a problem in your fields, include that in your selection criteria. Paying attention to markets (end use) is also a good idea, he says.

If you decide to incorporate a new hybrid, Nelson suggests bumping the oldest hybrid out. Use your highest performer on 40-50% of your acres and plant the new hybrid on about 10%. “If it does well, you can use it on 40-50% of your farm the next year,” he says. “But start with 10% because it could fall flat, even if it looks good regionally.”

Nelson adds that once you've selected the hybrids to plant, your farm's data becomes important. “Fertility, planting and harvest dates and soil type are all constant factors on your farm and can help you determine which hybrids are good performers to keep for the next year.”