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New technology’s performance earns more acres for 2011

Corn grower Jason Veenstra likes to push his yields. “It’s no fun growing something that doesn’t produce high yields,” says the 27-year-old, who farms 300 acres near Clinton, Ontario.

After reviewing his corn yields, there is no doubt that 2010 was a very fun year. “We ended up averaging 200-plus bushels to the acre on the full farm,” says Veenstra, who explains that the key to passing the 200-bushel threshold in 2010 was planting some Dekalb-brand Genuity SmartStax hybrids for the first time.

For Veenstra and many other corn growers, 2010 marked their first opportunity to plant the new corn hybrids. The technology delivers a combination of insect control, both above and below ground, plus Roundup Ready 2 Technology and LibertyLink herbicide tolerance for broad-spectrum weed and grass control.

These hybrids also provide the industry’s first reduced refuge system, requiring only a five percent refuge compared to the traditional 20 percent. The Dekalb brand was first to market with the new technology in 2010 and will offer 10 hybrids for 2011.

When Veenstra made the commitment to plant the new seed technology, he was counting on the combination of insect protection, strong weed control and good genetics to put more bushels in the bin. He was not disappointed. “They looked phenomenal,” he says. “We did some test strips and they topped the field. Veenstra planted 20 acres each of DKC50-45 (3075 heat units), which averaged 220 bushels per acre, and DKC46-07 (2875 heat units), which averaged 210 bushels per acre.

Veenstra says the top yields for his hybrids were even more impressive considering there was no visible evidence of insect pressure on his farm. “We never ran into the Western Bean Cutworm (WBC) that everyone was talking about. It was definitely all around our area, in this geography, but you couldn’t see it in my field,” something that he attributes to the protection provided by the technology.

The crop’s performance has convinced Veenstra to plant the new seed technology on his entire farm for 2011. That will also give him an opportunity to move to a five percent refuge. In 2010, because he planted only limited acres of Genuity SmartStax, Veenstra stuck to a 20 percent refuge, but that will change in 2011. “The refuge is your worst corn in the field. There’s a tremendous difference between growing a 20 percent refuge and a five percent refuge; with the latter you’re getting 15 percent more of your field into better hybrids.”

At press time, final totals on yield were unavailable across Ontario, but Dekalb agronomist Bob Thirlwall reports that many growers share Veenstra’s thoughts regarding the benefits of being able to reduce refuge requirements. “Based on reports we got from growers in 2009, they told us they were taking an average 12-bushel hit on refuge acres,” says Thirlwall. “By reducing refuge requirements, you now have the potential to get that 12 bushels per acre or more back on another 15 percent of your farm. That’s significant, no matter how you look at it.”

Thirlwall says growers are also aware of the broad-spectrum insect protection the new hybrids provide, including defence against the growing WBC threat, which is now gaining a foothold in Ontario. “We’ve heard so much from our Michigan neighbours about the pressure and damage we could have. I think corn quality could be an issue; once you get feeding, you have an entry point for mycotoxins and ear moulds of different sorts,” says Thirlwall. “That’s a concern from a quality standpoint because crops can be downgraded because of ear mould.”

Genuity SmartStax hybrids provide defence against yield-robbing insects by including three modes of activity to control European corn borer, southwestern corn borer and fall armyworm. There are also two modes of activity to control northern corn rootworm, western corn rootworm and corn earworm and one mode of activity to control Western Bean Cutworm and black cutworm.

Thirlwall notes that there was localized WBC damage in southern Ontario in 2010, in areas such as Bothwell in Chatham-Kent and Wardsville and West Lorne in Elgin County. “It’s interesting to see the amount of damage that can occur. The first thing you notice is the amount of grain feeding on the cob and the next concern is the secondary fungal diseases that have an entry point to develop,” Thirlwall says, noting that early harvest reports indicate incidences of gibberella and aspergillus ear moulds. Depending on the degree of pressure, he estimates the yield impact of WBC to range from five to 10 bushels on unprotected acres.

Another thing Thirlwall noticed in 2010 was tremendous European corn borer pressure. “In some of the early-harvested plots, refuge hybrids have been hit with up to 15-bushel yield losses. In one particular field walk in Chatham-Kent, I saw 47 percent of stalks infected with corn borer,” he says.

Growers will also benefit from fewer broken stalks from corn borer and the ease of harvest on those acres, adds Thirlwall.

Reduced refuge also makes planting simpler
One of the key advantages that Genuity SmartStax corn technology brings to the field is the ability to reduce the requirement for refuge corn acres from 20 to five percent. This means growers have the potential to realize more yield on a larger portion of the farm. It also allows growers to take a simpler approach when planting fields to meet refuge requirements. Dekalb agronomist Marvin Talsma uses the example of planting a 50-acre field to show how the new hybrids can make planting easier for growers who use planters with individual planter units. “Imagine going into a 50-acre field. With the new technology, you need just one bag of refuge corn in that field for the five percent refuge compliance. On top of that, you only need two rows if you are planting the refuge in strips,” explains Talsma.

“In this situation, you can put one bag of refuge corn in the end row unit of your planter and just plant up and down the rows. This will give you two rows every time until that refuge seed runs out. Then you just fill up with Genuity SmartStax and go,” says Talsma. “It’s the ultimate in simplicity.”

Talsma also notes that the five percent refuge only requires two rows together when planting strips, as opposed to four rows when planting a 20 percent refuge. “It works out really nicely at five percent. You can go up the field with corn in the end unit and come back, you then have two refuge rows side by side.”