You don’t have to know me very well to know that planters are my bag. I can fill any lull in conversation with something about planters, and my season is upon us, people.
Recently, I spent two weeks giving talks at planter clinics across the region. It was a bit of heaven for me, but of course, I still didn’t have quite enough time to cover all that I would have liked. And seeing as that we’re only about five or six weeks away from planting corn, I’d like to use my space and time here to fill some blanks.
But let me back up a little first. Let’s start by talking about your hybrids and all the time you put into selecting them. Fred Below believes that genetics account for up to 70 bushels per acre. The seed industry expresses the importance of genetics similarly: it collectively reports that genetics account for somewhere between 30-60% of your yield. That’s why you probably spent quite a chunk of time discussing hybrids with your Central Valley Ag Field Sales Agronomist since last spring.
Lately, the idea of the go-anywhere hybrid has been falling away. That myth of versatility has been replaced by conversations about the interplay between genetics and the microenvironment of your field. The best hybrids today aren’t versatile—they are well-fitted to your field. This is the reason that we find ourselves wringing our hands so much over hybrid selection nowadays.
Which is a good thing. It’s a change in our industry driven by good science and research. So we’ve become very careful in choosing our hybrids. Great. The problem creeps in when we blow our careful selections with bad execution during planting.
Here’s the scenario: you’ve got your planter loaded and ready to go with Hybrid A, which you spent weeks selecting for Field A. But you get to Field A and lo and behold—it’s too wet. So you putter over to Field B and it looks perfect for planting. You briefly consider that your planter is locked and loaded with the hybrid for Field A, but..ah, screw it. You turn into Field B and turn up the tunes.
I’ve asked many of you about this very scenario and by my count, only 10% of the time do you actually take the time to go dump Hybrid A and load up Hybrid B. A full 90% of the time, you go ahead with the mismatch.
For understandable reasons: you’re excited, you’re “behind,” you’re busy, you’re distracted. And you mostly know that planting Hybrid A into Field B won’t result in a train wreck.
But. While it might not result in a train wreck, it probably will result in about a 10% cut in your yield. Think about how many times you’ve talked to your FSA about some 20 bushel difference in yield with the same hybrid between different fields—you planted those fields the same, they share similar nutrient profiles, climate, and geography, so what accounts for the difference in yield? Yep. The interaction between the hybrid and the microenvironment of the field. 20 bushels isn’t a trainwreck, but it is 10%.
Here’s a little fun with math to illustrate the economic issues of taking the wrong hybrid into the wrong field:
Let’s say you raise 220 bushel corn. If you lose 10% of that due to a hybrid/field mismatch, that’s 22 bushels per acre. At $3.48 per bushel (a median going-rate across the markets lately), that’s a $76.56 loss per acre.
Now let’s say that you have a 24 row planter and you plant at a very responsible 4.5 MPH. At that rate, you’ll plant about 33 acres per hour. Using our calculated loss of $76.56 per acre, that means your decision not to go load your planter with the right hybrid costs you $2526.48 per hour.
If you plant a whole field, it puts your loss at about $12,249.60.
All because you were too excited/”behind”/busy/distracted to dump and reload your planter with the hybrid you spent weeks selecting just a few months ago.
(By the by, when mismatching the hybrid and field does cause a train wreck is when you’re using a seeding prescription. An increased level of management makes for decreased room for error and a mismatch in this case could very well result in a loss of 30-40%.)
We’re very aware of hybrid issues at harvest because we’re in the thick of it and all the attending consequences. But by the time planting rolls around, we often lose that focus amongst the chaos of the start of the season. Our inattention to detail in this moment though is costly.
On the other hand, our attention to detail in this moment makes for opportunity. In this instance, there’s nothing to buy, no sale to close, no bank to visit. You don’t have to ask anyone’s permission to grab this bull by the horns and increase your income—you just have to properly execute the plan that you spent all that precious time putting together.