Corn ear and leaves in August

DES MOINES — Selecting the right corn hybrid is a lot more complicated than looking at the yield test numbers and the maturity date.

Ken Ferrie, head of Crop-Tech Consulting (CTC) in Heyworth, Illinois, talked about matching crop fertility to the environment and to the hybrid during a presentation at the Iowa Farm Bureau annual meeting on Dec. 3.

He said there is a lot more information farmers should be taking into consideration when making cropping decisions. And that means doing the research first.

There are several things to consider, Ferrie said. The top three things any corn crop needs are sunlight, water and nutrients. For the first — sunlight — he says the goal is 97% light capture. What that really means is that once the row closes, there should almost no light hitting the ground in the field. It should be hitting the plant instead.

“If you are using the sunlight, increasing population won’t help,” he explained.

Row width and plant population are factors here, but so is leaf type. Ferrie said traditionally corn plants were bred to have leaves that shot out mostly to the side, to gather sunlight. In the past 15 years, higher plant populations have led to a move toward some hybrids with more upright leaves.

There are other factors in choosing a hybrid based on leaf angle. For example, a less upright leaf might be better in dry conditions to gather water.

Each leaf type has its own place and purpose, he said. And some farmers may want to alternate strips of different hybrids with different leaf types to mitigate weather risks in the field.

Another factor is something Ferrie called ear flex. He said hybrids gain much of their yield potential in different ways and thus different times during the growing season. Some depend on ear girth or thickness. Because that is determined early in the season, in about the V6 stage, those types of hybrids are ones you may want to make sure get nitrogen and care early in the season.

Other hybrids get most of their gain from kernel depth, which is determined late in the season. Some hybrids may use variations of those three items for maximum yield.

The bottom line is that it is helpful to know what time during the growing season is especially important for the hybrid you are planting.

Ferrie stressed that farmers should buy seed knowing where it is to be planted and for what reasons. It should not be a matter of which bags are in the front of the pile in the shed.

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Gene Lucht is public affairs editor for Iowa Farmer Today, Missouri Farmer Today and Illinois Farmer Today.