Choosing the correct corn hybrid(s) for your farm is the easiest way to gain (or lose) bushels, given you have already optimized most other management practices. In a North Dakota hybrid trial data set from NDSU, there was as much as 88 bushels per acre difference between the top and bottom yielding adapted hybrids at a location, and all hybrids entered were available for seed in that or the following year. If you do the quick math in your head you can quickly see how much choosing the right hybrid impacts profitability at the farm level.
Talking about hybrid selection in March is a bit late for the November-December cycle of when most producers are making their hybrid selections and payments with their seed salesmen and saleswomen. However, I want to provide some information about hybrids for future decision making processes, and for you to look at as you size up the choices you made for plant 17.
First, I encourage you to use all available sources of data you can find to choose the right hybrids for your farm. There are numerous sources available to you, such as private company trials, 3rd party testing trials (FIRST testing), university trials (NDSU), and word of mouth. I want you to consider all sources when choosing hybrids because the more evidence you have for your selections, the better chances that those choices are the right ones.
Secondly, I want you to give priority to trials done in your region that are replicated over multiple locations, above single location trials (even if they are on your farm). Even better would be to find hybrid results over multiple years, though in a fast-paced seed market this has grown increasingly difficult. As an example, Dr. Joel Ransom’s corn hybrid testing program at NDSU plants three to four locations of the exact same trial per year per zone, and has three different testing zones ranging from early to late RM hybrids by latitude. The 3rd-party company FIRST plants four locations of every variety trial for soybeans and six locations for every hybrid trial of corn.
The third and most important point I want to make to you about choosing a hybrid, is that no matter how much you love or hate gambling, choosing a hybrid is exactly that, gambling. When you choose a hybrid to plant you are gambling on the odds that hybrid outperform your other available choices. You can do this with as little or as much data as you would like, and past research has shown that using multi-location, multi-year data increases the odds that you are making the right choice. Dr. Joe Lauer, corn agronomist at the University of Wisconsin, had the quintessential article on this topic. The article can be found here: http://corn.agronomy.wisc.edu/AA/A012.aspx.
The summary of this work is that if you picked a top 10% hybrid from one location worth of data, you would have a 17.5% chance for it to be a top 10% performer next year. If you picked a hybrid in the top 10% from three locations worth of data, you have a 29% chance that hybrid will be ranked in the top 10% again the following year. Another scenario is that you select a truly average hybrid (near trial mean) from one location worth of data, in which case you would only have a 7% chance for that hybrid to rank in the top 10% when grown the next year. The worst-case scenario would be for you to pick a bottom 10% hybrid from one location, which would give you an incredible 25% chance of that hybrid being a bottom 10% performing hybrid the following year.
The bottom line is that choosing a hybrid is like gambling, playing the odds. The good news is that it is a game you can win, or in gambling terms the house does not have to always win. If you take care to choose top performing corn hybrids using multiple sources of multi-location, multi-year data, you increase your changes of starting off a growing season with truly top end yield potential. If you need to make any last-minute hybrid selections for 2017, make those choices count!