One of my city-dwelling nephews recently asked how I choose what type of corn to plant. While there are thousands of variables to consider, I’m going to stick with a “Top Ten List.” Experience and gut feeling, as I mentioned in last week’s blog post about the number of options farmers have for seed, cover thousands of variables. I also think they’re “givens,” so my top 10 will be more based on science and the black and white factors I need to consider.
This language may seem foreign to some of you, so I’ll try to explain it for the non-farmers in my audience. Farmers, feel free to click on this link for tips on selecting corn hybrids from one of Latham Seeds’ product team members.
As always, feel free to comment or send me a message if there’s a term you don’t understand. I’ll share half of my list with you this week, and the last half next week:
Number 10 – length of growing season Depending on where a farm is located, the growing season varies. Farmers in North Dakota, for example, have a shorter growing season than farmers in Iowa. Farmers in Louisiana plant much different maturities than we plant in the Upper Midwest. The number of days it takes for a seed to grow into a plant that produces grain can even vary by state. Those of us who raise crops in northern Iowa plant different maturities than farmers in southern Iowa. Sometimes we even switch maturities or switch from planting corn to planting soybeans if we’re not able to get our seed planted as early as needed due to weather conditions.
Number 9 – soil types Different genetics are better suited for different types of soil. To understand this, you need to know that every farm has different “dirt.” There can be several different soil types within a field, but I’m going to simply things here. There are three main categories: (1) sandy has the biggest soil particles; (2) loam has medium-size particles; and (3) clay has very fine particles. Each category has different characteristics, such as how much water it can hold. Farms in western Iowa and into Nebraska, for example, tend to receive less rainfall than we do. Farmers there need drought-tolerant or drought-resistant corn hybrids.
Number 8 – weed pressure This is another complex decision, and it’s becoming even more complex as some weeds are developing resistant to particular herbicides. Herbicides are used to kill weeds because too much weed pressure can drastically reduce yield. (NOTE: We don’t douse our crops with glyphosate. Click here to learn more about how much glyphosate is sprayed on our crops.) Farmers need high yields to provide return on their investment in seed, plant foods and herbicide. Rotating between herbicide traits is very important when fighting weed resistance.
Number 7 – insects and disease Seed companies rate each product for how well they control s and disease. Different seed corn products are recommended for fields where corn is planted year after year verses on fields on which a corn-soybean rotation is practiced, and this is why independently owned Latham Hi-Tech Seeds only awards the GladiatorTM designation to its most defensive corn products. Rotation means that a farmer plants soybeans one year and corn the next year. Rotation can help break insect and disease cycles; seed selection is also crucial to fighting insects and disease.
Number 6 – climate There are so many variables that fall under climate! Soil temperatures and moisture affect how quickly a seed germinates, as well as how quickly a seedling emerges from the ground. Rainfall varies year by year and even from farm to farm. Obviously, the amount of rainfall affects how well a plant grows. Variable weather is more critical during certain periods of the plant reproduction process. Air temperatures are especially critical during pollination.
In research conducted by Dr. Fred Below, Professor of Plant Physiology at the University of Illinois, weather ranks as the most important factor affecting corn yield. Weather accounts for 70 bushels per acre, or 27 percent, of total yield!
Weather is one of the variables a farmer cannot control. However, seed selection is one way farmers can reduce risk. Be sure to tune in next week for Part III in my series on how farmers choose which seeds they plant.