Top Crop Manager

Features Agronomy Corn
Selecting hybrids and technology to maximize profitability

Think 20-60-20 on CHU ratings choices.

November 14, 2007  By Top Crop Manager

46aLow corn prices and high input costs can pack a knockout punch when it comes
to corn profitability. But a good hybrid selection strategy can help growers
make seed and technology selections that build a good defense against sagging
corn prices and soaring energy costs.

This year, Greg Stewart, Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food corn lead,
says growers need to focus on the net return when making seed choices. "At
$2.50 per bushel corn and near-record drying charges, you can't only look at
yield, you have to consider how much it is going to cost you to dry it,"
says Stewart. "A hybrid might yield five to seven bushels less than a competitive
hybrid, but it will come in at three to four points dryer and is probably going
to net you more at the end of the day."

Both Stewart and Dekalb agronomist Derek Freitag agree that choosing hybrids
based on the 20-60-20 rule is still a good strategy – 20 percent of acreage
is planted with hybrids 100CHU longer than recommended, 60 percent is planted
with hybrids at recommended CHU and 20 percent is planted at 100CHU shorter.
"There needs to be an opportunity for growers to look for elite, long-season,
high yielding material that is perhaps a little more than your farm can handle.
This 20 percent is what you're targetting for early planting and it's probably
going to go on your best ground," says Stewart.


However, that search for yield has to be combined with other needs as growers
select hybrids for their remaining ground. "It's the hybrids that you pick
for the mid 60 percent and the late 20 percent that become incredibly sensitive
to drying costs," says Stewart.

When selecting hybrids, growers need to be mindful of heat unit ratings, says
Freitag. "Some companies are more aggressive than others when assigning
heat unit ratings. It's important to ensure that the 2800CHU hybrid you select
will mature within that heat range. If you select hybrids that take a little
longer than expected to mature, you're adding to your maturity risk, which can
also cost more money at the dryer."

Stewart says growers need to develop a strategy to allow them to react to spring
planting conditions. "Growers need a fallback position for later-planted
hybrids. They need to have a plan just in case it gets to May 15 and they still
have 80 percent of their corn acres to plant. That's when they have to start
thinking about making hybrid switches that maximize profitability, not necessarily
yield." Stewart points to research out of Wisconsin and Minnesota to make
his point. "The research suggests that once you get to May 20, you have
to start switching to shorter season hybrids, especially if you are paying relatively
high drying charges. This may not be brand new, but is more important as growers
look at a balance between what they're getting paid for corn and what they're
paying for their drying costs."

Stewart recommends that growers talk with seed dealers to determine both a
hybrid's strengths and weaknesses. He says some strong hybrids may have an Achilles
heel and seed salesmen can help ensure growers do not plant these hybrids in
environments that play to the weakness. "That's the way I drive my hybrid
suggestions. Does the hybrid have a weakness in early planting or droughty soils
or heavy clays? If the weakness corresponds to your planting conditions, you
want to select away from a hybrid that might otherwise be a good, relatively
high yielding, elite material."

Selecting the right corn technology is also part of the hybrid selection equation.
Bt, Roundup Ready and stacked trait hybrids can be found in most seed guides
and this adds another dimension to hybrid choices, says Freitag. "Technology
has had a great impact on seed selection. Back in 1998, the Dekalb seed guide
for example contained 29 hybrids – all conventional. For 2006, there are
58 hybrids with a full range of technology options and seed treatments."
When choosing technology options, both Stewart and Freitag agree that growers
need to assess the challenges presented by weeds and insect pests to be sure
they are spending their money wisely.

"When it comes to corn borer, no one can predict what's going to come
in," says Freitag. "Bt corn should always be used in areas that traditionally
have corn borer pressure. However, corn borer pressure can hit anywhere, anytime,
so it is good insurance to protect yield and harvestability."

Stewart feels Bt, Roundup Ready and Poncho seed-applied insecticide play a
key role in protecting the crop against potential risks. "You need to look
for that high yielding, most stable hybrid and if it's Bt, it makes good sense
to ensure yourself with Bt on a pretty good percentage of your acres. You can
also pick some good non-Bt hybrids that meet your refuge requirement and could
probably be planted on other parts of your acreage," says Stewart.

Freitag says Roundup Ready technology is a good fit for any field because of
its broad spectrum weed control, wide window of application and excellent crop
safety. Stewart says Roundup Ready is an excellent choice when growers feel
they will have difficulty applying conventional herbicides or in fields coming
out of forage and those with tough weed challenges. "I think there are
some real good fits for the technology. If you anticipate high weed pressure
or you may not be able to get to the field on time with a conventional spray,
I'm going to make sure Roundup Ready goes in there."

When growers are planting corn after corn, Freitag says they should consider
planting YieldGard hybrids with protection from corn rootworm. "Rootworm
damage can occur in any soils, but is usually worse on medium or heavier soils.
Yield advantage depends on pressure levels. We've seen up to a 13 bushel advantage
in Monsanto trials with much better harvestability."

Stewart says Poncho at the regular rate makes a lot of sense if fields typically
suffer from European chafer or wireworm. "If you have corn after pasture
or sod, having an insecticide applied to the hybrid is a real nice piece of
insurance that will most likely pay off." Poncho 1250 seed-applied insecticide
is also an option when managing corn rootworm. -30-



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