By Rhonda Brooks

Editor, Farm Journal Magazine
Editorial Director, Farm Journal Media

When you pour a bag of premium-quality seed corn into your planter, you’re looking at a hybrid with the genetic potential to produce upward of 500 bu. per acre. So why is it the annual U.S. corn crop averages only 175 bu. per acre?

That question is one Farm Journal Field Agronomist Ken Ferrie, as part of the Farm Journal Test Plots program, has invested years of field research and thousands of hours into answering.

Certainly, poor weather conditions, weed competition and insect and disease damage do their part to keep the lid on yields. But Ferrie says there are missing links—an information gap in the industry—that prevent farmers from making hybrid selection and management decisions that could maximize yield results.

“We need another level of knowledge about hybrid genetics, beyond what we currently have available, to select hybrids and manage them better in the field,” Ferrie says.

For instance, some hybrids prefer more nitrogen at the front end of the growing season, while others will add yield from nitrogen applied as late as 30 days before harvest. Still, other hybrids respond best to split applications.

If you knew that level of in-depth information when shopping for hybrids, it would influence which hybrids you buy, where you’d place them in the field and how you’d treat them during the growing season.

Ferrie says farmers can unlock the door to a deeper level of knowledge by understanding how hybrid ear type (flex, semi-flex, semi-determinate or determinate) and plant structure (upright, semi-upright, semi-pendulm or pendulum leaves) affect the development of the crop.

“Corn ear type dictates planting population, and structure affects plants’ ability to capture sunlight,” he explains.

Information on hybrid ear type and plant structure is readily available from only a few seed companies today. But with a little effort and practice, farmers can figure out the type of hybrid they’re planting, he says. You can learn more from Ferrie’s Boots In The Field Report podcast