FIRST Test Combine

About the cover: John Querna harvests the FIRST soybean test plot near Lamberton, Minn., on Oct. 6, 2020. The FIRST plot is hosted by Ed Iverson and his Dad, Kern Iverson. Photo by Mark Querna.

Southern Minnesota was a big winner in the 2020 FIRST (Farmer’s Independent Research of Seed Technologies) yield comparison plots. Many tests revealed record breaking yields in individual plots, and the region also produced top yields that were similar to those across the U.S.

New varieties and technologies are tested each year in the FIRST trials, dedicated to providing unbiased comparisons of innovative seed genetics for corn and soybean seed.

In southern and south central Minnesota, FIRST Manager Mark Querna said growers were pleased to learn how well the crops fared after a dry August.

“We benefitted up until now with a tremendously good growing season, and a very good harvest season. It looks like, after a break for some October snow, we’ll get one more shot at finishing harvest up with good weather,” said Querna on Oct. 26. His goal for himself and his brother, John Querna, was to complete the FIRST corn trials by Nov. 5-6.

Each test site is reported quickly after the harvest is completed, and those results are shared here and more in-depth at firstseedtests.com.

Soybeans

Querna conducted testing in two regions this year – Minnesota South and Minnesota South Central. He tested 48 early and 48 full-season soybean varieties at each location.

Within a region, all locations include the same seed products. Each product is replicated three times per location, with four farmers hosting plots per region, so each seed product is replicated 12 times within a region.

All FIRST test plots are a minimum of 10-feet wide by 40-feet long.

Soybean testing was completed by Oct. 18.

In the Minnesota South Central Region, (third and fourth tier of counties from the Minnesota/Iowa border), 48 early varieties (1.5-1.8 RM) averaged 72.5 bushels per acre. Forty-eight full-season varieties (1.9-2.2 RM) averaged 72.4 bushels per acre.

In the most southerly two tiers of counties, (Minnesota South Region), 48 early varieties (1.6-1.9 RM) averaged 73 bushels per acre. Forty-eight full-season (2.0-2.3) averaged 73.4 bushels per acre.

All soybean yields are adjusted to 13 percent moisture and 60-pound soybeans/bushel.

“My average yield range was anywhere from about 62-80 bushels per acre in the FIRST trials,” he said. “Most of my farmers said that other than maybe a few fields that were on marginal soils, or other things came up, that’s what they saw, too.”

The highest yielding variety at Easton hit 89.2 bushels per acre. Querna thinks diverse weather patterns in July and August may have played a role in the excellent soybean crop. August, especially, was alternatively hot and dry, hot and wet, cold and dry, or cold and wet.

Most farmers didn’t think they had received enough rain in August, so they were surprised to see high soybean yields. Querna suspects a lack of very hot weather kept the soybeans from aborting pods and flowers. Fields were relatively free of disease or insects, and weed control was fair-to-good in the conventionally-sprayed plots.

Some townships or counties had difficult growing conditions, for instance, the plot near Lamberton was very wet in 2019. Cooperator Ed Iverson planted into good conditions, but April through July were wet. Rains stopped in August.

“A couple of individual plots showed evidence of stunted plants (from excess water) at harvest in an otherwise beautiful plot site,” wrote Querna in his FIRST report. At the Lamberton location, the early top-30 varieties yielded an average of 66.4 bushels per acre. The Full-Season test averaged 67.2 bushels for the top 30 varieties.

The highest soybean yield test results were harvested near Easton in the Minnesota South region. The early top 30 varieties averaged 79.2 bushels, while the full test averaged 80.5 bushels. Dru Martin hosted the Easton plot. The Easton Full-Season test result was second in the national FIRST trials, topped only by 89.3 bushels at the FIRST plot near Mount Joy, Penn.

Near Nerstrand, a very good soybean crop received an unfortunate hail storm on Oct. 2. Plot hosts Keith, Kurt, and Brian Schrader determined that about 20-25 bushels per acre were lost due to hail. Early varieties were more severely damaged. Despite the storm, the early top-30 soybean varieties averaged 48.2 bushels, and the full averaged 62.6 bushels.

“While test statistics were good, the results presented should be used with caution due to potentially uneven damage from hail,” Querna said. “It is heart wrenching to have a hail storm right at harvest.”

Corn

Querna’s FIRST corn regions included: Minnesota Southeast with six cooperating farmers. The Southeast Early-Season tests included 71 entries, and the Full-Season test included 60 entries.

Minnesota Southwest included six locations with 80 Early-Season entries and 60 Full-Season entries.

The entire Minnesota South Region included six cooperating farmers for an Ultra-Early-Season Corn Grain test. This test included 48 entries with 91-96 CRM.

“Interest (in early maturity corn) was spurred mostly from late planting last year due to the late, horribly wet spring,” he said. “There was a lot of interest in early maturing hybrids to see what might be the best product to plant in a wet year or a late planting year.”

FIRST corn harvest at the Steve Ryberg farm, of Jackson, began on Sept. 30. The Early-Season test for the top 30 hybrids averaged 236.2 bushels per acre. The Full-Season test averaged 241.5 bushels.

Conditions were excellent leading up to the dry August.

“Plants stood very well at harvest, but stalk strength seemed average,” Querna wrote in his test comments. “The few lodged stalks were broken off below the ear. The ears were filled to the tip, and corn moisture was lower than anticipated.”

Many of the farmers Querna worked with said their cornfields were very uniform in 2020.

There was a mechanical issue near Dexter. The continuous corn site had looked poor early on due to a lack of rain in early May and then a cold and wet spell led to uneven early growth. Urea was custom side-dressed to the continuous corn site, but tire damage hurt some of the rows included in the FIRST trial. Yields in the plot ranged from 130-260 bushels per acre in part due to lodging, and the data had to be rejected.

Force insecticide was applied to all FIRST corn plots, and CRW was more problematic in some fields surrounding the plots this year.

This was not a good year to plant corn after corn for top yields, Querna added. Corn/soybean rotations seemed to do better in 2020 compared to continuous corn.

There had been some high wind on June 2 near New Richland. Despite some goose necking, corn came through very well. The average yield for the top 30 hybrids in the Early-Season test was 233.3 bushels per acre. In the Full-Season test, the top 30 hybrids averaged 254.9 bushels.

“Corn after soybeans, I think, unless it gets snowy at the end here, will show some of the highest yields ever,” Querna said. “There are fewer problems than normal, but there is some evidence again, that Mother Nature still finds places to punish us, even in small areas.”

Using the results

A lot of financing, time and effort goes into setting up FIRST plots. It is a commitment from the seed companies who pay to participate in the trials, the farmers who host the plots, the local FIRST managers, and the national FIRST office where the yield results are tabulated and published.

It’s easy to take a quick glance at each FIRST chart for yield totals, but Querna encourages farmers to study the results for additional information.

When a farmer clicks on a report at firstseedtests.com, the first two pages of the report are the results of the top 30 highest yielding Early-Season and Full-Season tests. There are four additional pages of information on each test location. All of the products that were entered in the trial are listed there. There are also footnotes that tell what some of the abbreviations mean. Technologies are listed, as well as information on seed treatments.

“I tell farmers to not just look at the yield page itself, but look at the supporting material,” he said.

He also encourages farmers to use the FIRST Product Search feature on www.firstseedtests.com.  The new tool allows farmers and companies to view all the trial results for individual products.  A product’s summary includes a map of where it was tested, its yields in 2019 and 2020, as well as agronomic information that provides a snapshot of its performance in FIRST’s independent tests.

He reminds farmers to look through the reports outside their region. Studying products from 100 or even 200 miles away may give some insights into the best soybeans varieties or corn hybrids for the next year. The highest yielding products that show up at multiple sites are a strong indicator of those products that will perform well under different conditions.

“A lot of farmers are still looking at one or two seed companies and trying to find out what the best option is,” Querna said. “From FIRST, we always tell people that the best thing they could do is try as many of the best varieties as possible.

“From my standpoint, I believe that many companies have some great yielding products.”