How Farmers Choose Corn Hybrids, Part III

Nearly all the seed that Midwest farmers will plant next spring will be purchased by the end of December. It’s a busy time of year as we balance time spent attending commodity meetings and finalizing seed orders. Those not used to the practice may be surprised to learn how much time goes into selecting the seed we plant.

One of my nephews, who wasn’t raised on a farm, recently asked me how I choose what type of corn to plant. While there are thousands of variables to consider, I developed a “Top Ten List.” Last week I shared part of my list and today I’m sharing the rest. As always, feel free to comment or send me a message with any questions!

CornSeed_BagNumber 5 – tillage equipment
To protect against soil loss, many farmers are practicing no-till. This means they plant next year’s crop into the old crop residue. Since the soil isn’t tilled, the crop residue helps protect against erosion and preserve water quality. Crop residue causes soils to remain wetter and colder in the spring, so farmers need to take this into consideration at planting time.

According to Purdue University, these 3 steps are key for selecting seed in no-till situations: (1) List hybrids that yield well in more than one trial, in more than one year. (2) From that list, identify those hybrids with traits that are important to no-till corn production: cold tolerance, or ability to germinate and emerge in cool soils; seedling vigor, or the ability for strong root development in cool and dense soils; and tolerance to diseases like Gray Leaf Spot. (3) Buy only high quality seed. The best hybrid in the world may fall “fail” in no-till if seed quality is poor! Indicators of seed quality include warm germination ratings, cold germination ratings, and the seed company’s reputation for quality assurance.

Number 4 – end use of the corn
Farmers who plan to feed their crop to dairy, beef or hogs look for different characteristics than farmers who haul their corn to town. Corn kernel attributes can vary greatly, seed traits can affect the qualities of the end product. Starch, protein and digestible fiber are just as important to animal diets as they as to human diets.

Latham Forage Products Manager Corey Catt says the availability of kernel starch and how it is digested is important for ethanol and livestock feed, however, a softer starch kernel is not preferable for export. When selecting corn hybrids for snaplage, Corey says it’s important to look for excellent fall plant intactness (or corn hybrids that strong stalk late in the season) plus a large ear and flared husk to facilitate a cleaner ear snap. Some hybrids have better fiber digestibility than others, but farmers must make sure those particular hybrids will work on their soils or have the desired trait package needed in a corn-on-corn situation.

Number 3 – combinations of seed traits
Crop rotation also impacts what type of traits farmers need to plant on my ground. I might be able to get by planting a hybrid with fewer traits (and thus is costs less) if I’m planting a field to corn in 2017 that was planted to soybeans in 2016. Fields that are planted to corn year after year, however, tend to experience heavier insect pressure. Yield is often lost in continuous corn scenarios due to increased pressure from insects and disease. That’s why Latham Hi-Tech Seeds recommends its GladiatorTM corn hybrids for these acres.

It’s important to note that yield comes from genetics and traits help protect the plant against the presence of stress or pests.  Without that pressure, however, non-traited varieties can also perform well especially in favorable weather. Since you can’t predict the weather, planting corn hybrids with a corn rootworm trait protect the corn plant’s root system, particularly in a dry year.  It’s like having an extra insurance policy in place.

Number 2 – value
There is a huge difference in the price of a bag of seed corn, depending on brand name and the trait package (Genuity® SmartStax® verses double stack). I’ve learned that cheaper seed doesn’t guarantee more profit at the end of the year. In fact, more than one Latham Seeds’ customer has said that the most expensive hybrid he ever planted was free seed from a competitor. Why? It all comes down to yield!

Farmers get paid based on the number of bushels of grain they sell. The average corn yield in Iowa is 192 bushels per acre, but it’s not uncommon to see hybrids yield 200 bu/A or more. Sometimes we’ll experience 50-bushel difference in yield between hybrids, and that’s a big difference in income opportunity. Take 50 bushels times a $3.50/bu market prices and that’s a difference of $175/acre in additional revenue. (Markets are low now, so this could be even more.) Now take the average Iowa farm size of 345 acres times $175, which equals $60,375. See what I mean? More yield mean more income opportunity. The higher priced seed offers a better “value” because of the return on investment.

Number 1 – brand loyalty
Just as consumers choose brand name hotels and restaurant chains because of consistency and value, the same holds true for farmers and their seed brands. Family-owned Latham Hi-Tech Seeds has a reputation for producing among the highest quality seed in the industry. It also has a history of performance. (Latham brand seeds earned 199 Top 10 corn placings in the 2016 F.I.R.S.T. 2016 with 17 first place finishes in corn.)

Latham’s performance on each farm and in yield trials shows the breadth and depth of its product lineup. It also shows the strength of its product team. I enjoy knowing the people who pick the genetics I plant. Unlike larger companies that recognize economies of scale by selecting hybrids that are widely adapted throughout many regions across the Corn Belt, I know Latham chooses corn hybrids that are bred to perform in the specific conditions where I farm. That makes a world of difference to me. Not only are the products suited for my farm, but I appreciate doing business with a company that shares my values.

If you’re interested in the other factors I consider when selecting seed, please click on the links below: