By Nathan Mueller
As fall harvest gets underway so do early seed discounts and making seed buying decisions for 2018. In times of tight margins, every extra bushel produced and every dollar spent on inputs like seed (10%), fertilizer (13%) and chemicals (9%) that make up your production cost become more acute. One of the first routine management decisions you make and one of the most important is corn hybrid and soybean variety selection.
How much yield difference is there between corn hybrids and soybean varieties? On average, regional third-party trials have shown a 15-bushel-per-acre difference in soybean variety performance and a 50-bushel-per-acre difference in corn hybrid performance. At current commodity prices, that is a $135 and $150 per acre difference in soybean varieties and corn hybrids in potential revenue driven by a decision you made a year ago. Corn hybrid selection ranks No. 2 for management factors driving yield differences, and soybean variety selection ranks No. 1.
Here are some key points to consider:
Seed sales. The price per unit can vary $5 within tech traits in soybeans and easily range from $10 to $60 per unit difference in corn. Overall, worrying about seed cost vs. yield performance in soybeans is less critical than it is for corn.
Be sure to capture early seed discounts. Seed companies have internal data showing the average performance difference among their products. They do consider such previous performance in regional placement and do share this through recommendations in your region. Ask them if the supply for some products they recommend are a little tighter than others, and consider ordering those sooner if they sound like a good choice for your farm.
It's your call on how many companies or seed dealers you want to work with when selecting hybrids and varieties. Once 2017 yield data is available from various sources, evaluate the hybrids and varieties you ordered, and make a substitution if needed. Your seed dealer will make this substitution assuming seed supply exists, but discuss this with them ahead of time.
Proven performance. Look for a proven yield record across locations and years if possible for each variety and hybrid using multiple sources, including third-party trials, company trials and on-farm results. For on-farm comparisons, precision ag data management software and services can be used to summarize performance from past seasons. Ask your seed representative to run comparison analysis between hybrids and varieties that you are considering within their company to help with selection, too. Though not all hybrids and varieties are tested in third-party performance trials, they are a great source of information:
• Farmers' Independent Research of Seed Technologies (FIRST) Trials
• Iowa Crop Performance Tests
• South Dakota State University Extension Crop Performance Testing
• UNL Crop Variety and Hybrid Testing Program
Mix maturities. Recent soybean analysis with third-party data from 2012-16 in Eastern Nebraska and from a recent farmer survey across the Midwest show that soybean maturity does not explain much of the yield difference on average, but rather the variety and planting date. So diversify maturities, for example a 2.4 to 3.4 in east-central Nebraska.
In Nebraska, short periods of heat and drought for two weeks during early or late August may impact fuller-season varieties more or less than the shorter-season varieties, depending when or if it occurs. The same can be true in July for corn during pollination.
GEM. The interaction between genetics, environment and management (GEM) must be assessed. Make a list of specific traits you want for certain management practices (irrigated, continuous corn, etc.) and fields (river bottom, terraced ground, etc.). Your trusted agronomist can help you with this task and remember your product placement come planting season.
I have asked numerous farmers over the years how much time they spend on corn hybrid and soybean variety selection and placement. As an agronomist, the answer has been either disheartening or satisfying. Let it be the latter.
Mueller is a Nebraska Extension cropping systems educator.