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Seed Selection: Starting Your Corn Seed Management System

GEM2008_FieldDay_RowsSeed selection is one of the most important tasks a sustainable farmer takes on every year, but knowing what seeds to save takes some experience and expertise.

First, one note: We are entering the science of genetics when selecting seed. Every trait of a corn variety is genetically driven.

Now, we know are primarily interested in harvesting the largest yields possible and must not allow your seed variety selection to place limitations upon your fields. From experience, we know that corn variety numbers vary greatly under certain conditions, and even in identical conditions they may differ in yields as much as 10 to 50 bushels per acre.

Every farmer has his favorite seed corn numbers that consistently produce well. The problem develops when he wants to select some new variety of number to replace some that appear to be playing out. The question becomes, how should he select a new number for test purposes? Does he choose the new number at the recommendation of a seed salesman simply because he is a friend who farms and sells seed as a sideline? Does he take the advice of a part-time salesperson or go elsewhere for advice?

We believe two steps must be taken to get the most from your seed selection. First, the right questions must be asked, and second, these questions must be asked of the person within the seed company who can adequately answer them. This approach will provide a solid foundation for your final decision. Here are some of the topics about seed traits you may want to consider:

  • Standing ability — Is the outer shell strong enough to support the plant if the corn develops stalk rot?
  • Cold germination — If the seed has poor germination under cold conditions it may decompose before it germinates or start with an uneven stand.
  • Early vigor — How will the young plant perform under adverse soil conditions?
  • Ear flex — Does the variety have strong ability to flex its ears if the stand is reduced or growing conditions or management are good?
  • Double ears — Does the variety have strong genetic possibilities of setting double ears under good growing conditions and management?
  • Plant population — What is the minimum plant population possible without sacrificing yield?
  • Maturity — What are the numbers with the shortest maturity that can be planted in your area without sacrificing yield?
  • Leaves — Is there a difference in the number of leaves above the ears?
  • Resistance to disease — Does the variety have resistance to diseases, such as gray leaf spot?
  • Root vigor — Is the variety known for its root vigor (including the brace roots)?
  • Resistance to corn borer — Does the variety (if not a Bt number) have a rating for resistance to corn borer?
  • Plant height — What is the normal height of the variety? (Other things being equal, a genetically shorter plant should be selected.)

These are some of the traits we need to know, and others, such as resistance to drought, may also be of concern. Certain varieties may be superior in different soil conditions, like “muck” ground.

Once you have selected and planted your various seed corn numbers, it becomes important to enter the pertinent information, plus how each one performs at the end of the season, into your seed management system file. Test weight, moisture levels and corrected yields to determine what numbers are kept or discarded.

Finally, it must be understood that proper management of all of the other systems in your production program is of utmost importance to allow your carefully selected seed corn varieties to properly express their good traits.

Source: Agriculture in Transition by Donald L. Schriefer, Acres U.S.A.

These tips appear in the October 2013 issue of Acres U.S.A.

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