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Planning for the 2006 crop year

Make sure you consider all the variables.

November 13, 2007
By Marty Vermey


6aAll winter we spend hours, days, weeks and months planning our cropping strategy
for the upcoming spring. In spite of this, the spring season becomes a mad dash
to get all the acres planted. Well-thought plans become mere history. Side-tracking
us from our plans are unforeseen issues like weather, labour and equipment breakdowns.

As we plan for the next planting season, we need to consider a strategy that
will ensure our plans become a reality.

Hybrid selection
There is currently a multitude of products in the market from which to choose:
but what is most important is which is right for your growing situation. Part
of the responsibility of good crop management is to select the product that
will best meet your needs. Whether it is herbicide tolerance, insect tolerance
or feed quality, the producer must select the best product for his needs. The
highest yielding conventional product may not be the best product for the grower
who has hard-to-control perennial weeds. If weeds are the concern and existing
weed management programs are ineffective, perhaps a herbicide-tolerant crop
is the answer. However, if insects are the problem, like European corn borer,
then a product that controls and protects the plant from this pest, like Bt
corn, is the answer. In some cases, both traits might be beneficial or not at
all. Once you have determined your limiting factors, you can then select a genetic
package that will work in your environment.


First of all, consider the maturity zone, soil type, diseases, insect pressure
and other agronomic concerns for each field that will be planted this upcoming
spring rather than focussing on what worked last year. For instance, Woodstock
accumulated 3282CHUs (Crop Heat Units) in 2005, for an area that is typically
rated at 2850CHUs; 2005 was obviously not a normal year. Planning for the average
will help avoid the potential pitfall of planting longer day corn for your maturity
zone and avoid scenarios like the short growing season of 2004.

Spreading your maturities across 200CHUs with your hybrid selection will allow
you to spread your risk, workload and opportunity. Full season products for
your area can be planted first to maximize the potential growing season and
reap the rewards of a larger yield. Your full season selection should not consist
of more than 25 percent of your hybrid portfolio. Other advantages to spreading
your maturity will be in stretching your pollination period over a greater time
and weather window to help avoid the risk of heat stress during pollination.

Consider selecting a minimum of three hybrids with genetic diversity to reduce
exposure to opportunistic diseases such as fusarium, smut and northern corn
blight, to name a few, that we experienced in 2005. Treat hybrid selection like
an investment portfolio, spread your exposure and risk over multiple hybrid
selections and dividends will be paid out in the end with a better yielding
and quality crop.

Performance data
It is also important to look for products with consistent performance in a variety
of environments. In other words, review plot results from different locations
over several growing seasons. Fortunately, there is an abundance of plot information.
Look at third party data from the Ontario Corn Committee. These plots are conducted
by knowledgeable corn researchers. However, one must remember that they are
small replicated plots (5.0ft by 20ft), two rows wide, that may have misleading
data which tends to favour the taller hybrids. Taller hybrids have a competition-effect
advantage in this type of trial system because they tend to shade out the shorter
hybrids. Tall hybrids obtain more sunlight beside shorter hybrids thereby producing
more energy and a higher yield; a phenomenon similar to the edge effect. In
a field or strip plot, height competition does not exist as it does in small
two row plots. In fact, a taller hybrid may actually have a lower yield response
in the field.

Since small replicated yield trials favour the later taller hybrids, looking
at data from larger plots like farmer strip trials is a useful tool in evaluating
hybrid performance. Variability in these trials occurs since they are conducted
over a larger acreage. Knowing the location, soil type and management practices
is helpful in determining if the data is valid. Plots, like those conducted
by individual companies, may not have all the products you need for a fair comparison,
but do show some trends.

Be careful in accepting the data from newspaper ads claiming that a particular
hybrid is the best; usually the data is from selected locations. Any hybrid
can come out on top given the right conditions and compared against the right
competitors (like hybrids that are not intended for those particular conditions).
Local plots that you can watch all season provide the best representation of
how the products perform in your area and in your environment that given year.
Data from other locations show how products perform under different conditions.

One plot does not contain the answer but a combination of data sources will
guide you in the right direction. In addition, your local seed dealer has experience
with the products that he sells and can direct you to the right product for
your conditions. This is especially important if he wants to sell product to
you next year. There is not a perfect product for everyone, but there is a product
suited for your specific needs; finding it can be the challenge.

Seed treatment
With your hybrid selection, you also need to consider if a seed-applied insecticide
is needed for the designated field. Seed-applied insecticides like Poncho 250
are necessary for fields with a history of insect pressure.

Table 1. Yield response to Poncho 250
in various yield environments.
Yield range (bu/ac) Yield response (bu/ac)
100 to 125 8.5
125 to 150 4.6
150 to 175 3.2
175 to 200 2.0
200+ 1.6
Source: Bayer CropScience 2005, from
more than 200 trials.

Fields with high amounts of decaying organic matter from crop residue, weeds
or manure applications need seed protection. Soil type has an influence on the
insect pressure levels as well. Coarser soil types like sand and sandy loam
soils are at higher risk than clay. However, evidence has shown that clay soils
are also prone to insect damage. Soil type alone is not a determining factor,
rather the need for treatment is determined by other effects like crop rotation,
manure application and time of seeding. The earlier the crop is planted, the
longer the seed will be in the soil, placing it at greater risk of insect damage.

New data coming from field strip trials in 2005 have indicated a yield difference
under various yield environments (see Table 1). Higher yielding environments
tend to have less stress and therefore less yield impact. Moderate to lower
yield environments have a greater response to the use of insecticide treatments.

Plant early: as soon as it is fit, and plant accurately. Fitness is in the eye
of the beholder. Everyone's conditions are different. It is imperative that
the seed is planted in the best seedbed possible. Whether it is no-till using
the appropriate planter attachments or conventional tillage, ideal conditions
consist of a uniform seedbed to ensure accuracy when planting. You must also
ensure that you are planting at the right depth and spacing with excellent seed-to-soil
contact and sufficient moisture to create uniform germination and emergence.
A crop that is planted uniformly will emerge uniformly and produce a consistent
productive crop. This is the start of a successful crop year.

If you decide to use a specific hybrid or seed-applied insecticide for specific
fields, you will need to communicate this plan to all involved. In a busy season,
the fine details may be forgotten or overlooked. Perhaps a field plan needs
to be in the planting tractor for each field. Better yet, separate your seed
before spring planting and label each skid according to the field that it will
be planted into.

There is nothing worse than finding out after the planting season that the
wrong seed was planted in the wrong field. The extra cost of seed protection
or herbicide tolerance was wasted in the field that did not need it, and the
field with insect problems or weed problems has no protection. In such circumstances,
full protection on all the seeded acres may be advantageous. Whatever you decide,
invest in time for specific management and invest in the product for simplicity;
do'er right the first time.

Marty Vermey has been a Certified Crop Advisor
since 1997. He works as the RAGT (genetics) product development manager
for Hyland Seeds. Certified crop advisors across Ontario assist growers
with crop management decisions. Since 1996, individuals from most growing
regions in Ontario have entered this intensive program. They maintain
their designation with continuing education credits by attending courses
and workshops. Look for the CCA emblem!