Southern Spotlight: Increasing Hybrid Variety

James Banahan

James Banahan

Last week, I talked about the importance of a good rotation plan for the success of your operation.  Today, let’s talk about hybrid selection and plotting since matching the right variety and traits to the situation at hand is as important as your rotation plan when it comes to achieving the highest yields possible.

Consider a baseball team.  Or, what the hey, let’s just jump on the bandwagon: consider the Royals.  They didn’t get into the playoffs (finally!) by putting their best catcher in center field or their big hitter 9th in the lineup.  No ma’am.  They put their best catcher behind the plate where he belongs, where his skills match the demands of the position, and their best batter 4th in the lineup, the cleanup position where his hitting skills gain him and the team the most runs.

Hybrid selection and plotting are exactly the same.  Conditions in your fields are not uniform.  You’ve got high spots, low spots, clay soil here, sandy soil there, insects and weeds in some places but not others, and different rotation histories all around.  Different parts of your field demand different things from your corn plants, just as different positions on a ball field demand different things from players.  You’d never expect a first baseman to be able to successfully play any position on the field, so why should we expect that a single corn hybrid can successfully grow in any place in our fields?

Most growers that I work with use just one or two hybrids across all their acres.  They choose one that strikes them as a workhorse and plant it everywhere.  And of course it grows.  You could put Derek Jeter in any position on the ball field, and he’d still be able to perform admirably.  But simply growing corn isn’t the goal of your operation, just like simply performing admirably isn’t the goal of a baseball team.  Your goal is to bring in yield.  A baseball team’s goal is to win.  To do these things, a good manager needs to match the skill to the position.

How many hybrids would be best for a grower to use depends on what exactly that grower wants to accomplish, but most growers would probably benefit most by using between three and eight different varieties.  While using too few undercuts yield, using too many for a very specific plan might become unmanageable.IMG_4145

You might be thinking that three to eight hybrids makes for a lot of bags to throw, and you’re right.  Or you’re right, at least, that you’ll be throwing more bags.  That’s the truth.  Using more hybrids will affect a little of the ease, efficiency, and speed of planting, but ease, efficiency, and speed are exactly the things that kill proper hybrid placement and thus, undercut your yield.

Planting a greater variety of hybrids actually won’t complicate your life, but attention to detail is required, as is planning.  Putting the wrong hybrid on the wrong acre can cost you yield, even to the tune of 20 bushels per acre if the match is just really awful.  However, putting the right hybrid in the right place doesn’t require learning advanced calculus.  There’s actually an app for it.  Your FSA, too, has a wealth of local knowledge about hybrid placement—a simple, well-timed conversation is all it takes.

And now, well, now is a pretty perfect time for such a conversation.  When the rain pauses your harvest activities, take the opportunity to make a few plans, jot a few notes.  Then talk it out and commit.  Ordering now will save you money over ordering later as you’ll lock in discounts on your seed.  Which isn’t to rush you but rather to light a fire.  Unless we’re invaded by aliens or the entire state of Indiana is swallowed by a sinkhole in the next 30 days, there’s no piece of information coming that will change your mind about your seed orders.   It’s a seize the day kind of thing: taking the opportunity now to plan your hybrid placement for next season is taking the opportunity to increase your yield just as taking the opportunity now to place those orders is taking the opportunity to save you bucks as a reward for your good foresight.