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Characterizing Hybrids for Response to Intensified Management

Categories: PLANTING, CORN
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  • Hybrids should be selected based on grower management style, or management style should be adjusted to fit the hybrid.

  • Understanding elasticity of kernel number and weight can help characterize hybrid response to management.

  • Intensified management can increase grain yield potential and sometimes improve hybrid agronomics.

Hybrids respond differently to management practices such as seeding rate, fertility, sidedress nitrogen (N) and foliar-applied fungicides. Understanding how hybrids respond to these management practices can help farmers not only select the right hybrids for their farms, but also aid in management decisions throughout the growing season.

Corn grain yield is the product of plants per acre, kernels per plant and weight per kernel. Plant population is the yield component most under the farmer’s control. Kernels per plant and weight of individual kernels are mostly affected by environmental conditions, but they can also be influenced by agronomic management practices. From the V4-V16 stage, the number of kernels the ear will produce is being set. However, if stress occurs during grain fill, kernel abortion or “tip-back” can reduce the number of kernels previously produced. Kernel weight can also be influenced by stress during the grain filling process.

Understanding when in the life cycle of the corn plant each of the yield components is determined can help farmers make management decisions based on specific hybrids. For example, if a hybrid is known to set a high number of kernels per plant but typically produces lighter kernels, focusing on management practices such as sidedressing N and applying foliar fungicides can help improve late-season plant health and kernel weight. On the other hand, if a hybrid produces fewer kernels but with more weight per kernel, early-season management such as planter-applied fertilizer may reduce early stress, triggering higher kernel counts per ear. Knowing how a given hybrid responds, whether it be in kernel number or kernel weight, can provide guidance on hybrid management regarding environmental stresses.

Figure 1. Corn trial locations where the short-season hybrid set was planted in orange and full-season hybrid set in blue
Figure 1. Corn trial locations where the short-season hybrid set was planted in orange and full-season hybrid set in blue

Agronomy in Action Research Trial

In 2021, the Golden Harvest® Agronomy in Action research team implemented a trial to characterize Golden Harvest hybrids for their response to intensified management. 5 hybrids suited for the given geography were planted in 3 management systems at both 34,000 and 44,000 plants per acre (Figure 1).

Figure 2. Visual image and table showing the amount of nutrients applied withthe planter and the placement of the fertilizer in relation to the seed for early-season management.

The 3 management systems included:

Figure 2. Visual image and table showing the amount of nutrients applied withthe planter and the placement of the fertilizer in relation to the seed for early-season management.
Figure 3. Image compares standard management on left to early + late-season management on the right at Geneseo, IL
  1. Farmer standard

    • Farmer’s normal fertility practice

    • No fungicide application

  2. Early-season management (Figure 2)

    • Farmer standard +

    • In-furrow 6-24-6-.25 Zn applied at 5 gal/A

    • UAN (32-0-0) surface dribbled 3 inches on each side of the row with planter at 17 gal/A and ATS (12-0-0-26S) at 5 gal/A

    • 2x2x2 placement of NACHURS Triple Option® (4-13-17-1S) at 15 gal/A

  3. Early + late-season management

    • Early-season management +

    • UAN sidedressed at 60 lbs of N/acre surface banded next to the row on both sides at V5-V6 timing

    • R1 foliar application of Miravis® Neo fungicide

At harvest, grain yield was recorded and subsamples of the harvested grain were collected. Grain subsamples were used to measure the weight of individual kernels and calculate the number of kernels per area.

Graph 1. Yield response to management at 8 locations averaged across 5 hybrids and 2 population
* Significant effect of management system on yield at α = 0.05.
Graph 1. Yield response to management at 8 locations averaged across 5 hybrids and 2 populations

Trial Results

Management system had a significant effect on grain yield at 4 of the 8 locations (Graph 1). Slater, IA, and Geneseo, IL, were the 2 locations where hybrids responded the greatest to early-season management, increasing yield by 24 and 46 bu/acre, respectively. Plants that received planter-applied fertilizer were visually greener, taller and 1 growth stage more advanced compared to the farmer standard (Figure 3).

Responses to early-season management may not always require an increase in fertilizer rate. Reallocating a portion of current broadcast fertilizer into a precision placement near the seed is the key. Precision fertilizer placement increases availability to plants and improves nutrient efficiency to help drive yield responses with equivalent or sometimes reduced overall rates.

Hybrids planted at Clinton, IL, and Keystone, IA, tended to respond more to additional N applied at V6 followed by an R1 foliar fungicide application. No yield response was observed at Beaver Crossing, NE, likely due to adequate fertility and irrigation creating a low stress environment, as indicated with standard management yields exceeding 280 bu/acre.

On average, across all locations there was a 13 bu/acre yield advantage to the early-season management system over the standard management system. Adding late-season management to the early-season management system increased yields by an additional 6 bu/acre.

All Hybrids are Not Created Equal

When averaged across all locations, there was a significant interaction between hybrid and management system as well as hybrid and population for the full-season hybrid set (Table 1).

Table 1. Hybrid yield response to plant population and management system averaged across 2 locations for the short-season hybrid set and 6 locations for the full-season hybrid set  Short-season set LSD (0.05) = NS Full-season set LSD (0.05) = 9
Table 1. Hybrid yield response to plant population and management system averaged across 2 locations for the short-season hybrid set and 6 locations for the full-season hybrid set
Short-season set LSD (0.05) = NS
Full-season set LSD (0.05) = 9

Golden Harvest corn hybrid G10D21 was the most responsive hybrid to increased population. In a standard management system, the yield response to the higher population was 7 bu/acre, whereas in the early-season management system, the population response was 14 bu/acre. Management system also had a significant effect on G10D21, increasing yields 18 bu/acre with early-season management and an additional 5 bu/acre from fungicide and N sidedressing when averaged across populations.

Despite Golden Harvest corn hybrid G10L16 and G10D21 both being 110-day relative maturity hybrids, they are quite different in how they should be managed. G10L16 did not respond to population and had a marginal response to additional fertility and foliar protection. Although G10L16 yield responses were minor, plant health and agronomic improvements from management were huge. The more intensive fertility program at the Geneseo, IL, location greatly reduced the degree of lodging of G10L16 caused by high seeding rates and late-season winds (Figure 4). In addition, the foliar-applied fungicide reduced leaf disease symptoms and improved plant health.

Golden Harvest corn hybrid G15J91 was the most responsive hybrid to both early-season management and the addition of late-season management. Planter-applied fertilizer increased yield by 21 bu/acre and sidedressed N followed by a foliar-applied fungicide increased yield by an additional 12 bu/acre, averaged across both seeding rates. G15J91 preferred early fertility to set a high yield potential and foliar protection to maintain it. Interestingly, a high population was not needed to achieve maximum yield potential. The short-season hybrid set did not have a significant interaction between hybrid and management system or population. Hybrid responses were less consistent between the 2 locations compared to the full–season set with 6 locations.

Figure 4. Images from Geneseo, IL, illustrating how management can improve agronomic characteristics of hybrid G10L16. Top left is standard management at 34,000 plants/acre. Bottom left is standard management at 44,000 plants/acre. Top right is early + late-season management at 34,000 plants/acre. Bottom right is early + late-season management at 44,000 plants/acre.
Figure 4. Images from Geneseo, IL, illustrating how management can improve agronomic characteristics of hybrid G10L16. Top left is standard management at 34,000 plants/acre. Bottom left is standard management at 44,000 plants/acre. Top right is early + late-season management at 34,000 plants/acre. Bottom right is early + late-season management at 44,000 plants/acre.

Both Golden Harvest corn hybrids G07G73 and G08R52 tended to show good response to management at 34,000 plants/acre. However, at the higher population, late-season management was critical to maintain yield potential for G07G73 while intensive early-season fertility was key to increasing yield potential for G08R52.

Hybrid Yield Component Elasticity

Hybrid yield components, both kernel number and weight, can be useful to predict when yield response from management may occur in a hybrid.

The G10D21 yield increase from early-season management was driven by an increase in kernel number (Table 2). Increases in kernel number with this hybrid commonly come by forming a second viable ear in absence of stress. It has the potential to produce a lot of kernels with proper fertility and has the agronomics to fill those additional kernels with late-season plant health.

Table 2. Hybrid yield component response to management system averaged across 2 populations and 2 locations for the short-season hybrid set and 6 locations for the full-season hybrid set
Table 2. Hybrid yield component response to management system averaged across 2 populations and 2 locations for the short-season hybrid set and 6 locations for the full-season hybrid set
Short-season set kernel number LSD (0.05) = NS
Short-season set kernel weight LSD (0.05) = NS
Full-season set kernel number LSD (0.05) = 6
Full-season set kernel weight LSD (0.05) = NS

G15J91 is unique in that it has tremendous flex in both kernel number and kernel weight to both early and late-season management. The ability of this hybrid to flex greatly to management is likely the reason why it does not respond to population. It can flex its ear depending on the degree of stress from plant population or environmental conditions.

Yield potential increases from the addition of late-season management with G07G73 was not driven by kernel weight but rather an increase in kernel number. This would suggest the yield response was likely from the additional 60 lbs of N/acre sidedressed which mitigated N stress from R1-R3 and reduced kernel abortion. If weather is causing sidedress delays, effort should be focused on G07G73 first when conditions improve.

G08R52 had an increase in kernel number and kernel weight resulting in the yield increase to early-season management. The enhanced plant nutrition with planter-applied fertilizer not only set a higher yield potential but the healthier and more robust plant was able to fill those additional kernels.

Considerations for Farmers

Golden Harvest is committed to providing information on how hybrids respond to different management systems. Informed farmers can use this information to either select hybrids that match their management style or adjust their management system to fit their hybrids. If a farmer is not set up to provide early nutrition near the seed, then selecting a hybrid that varies kernel number based on management might be risky – a hybrid that flexes kernel weight may be a better fit to that management style. On the other hand, if a farmer is set up well to provide season-long management but cannot get across all the necessary acres due to weather delays, this information can be used to identify hybrids that may respond to N or foliar disease management.

Figure 5. Response to planter applied nutrients at Geneseo, IL trial location. Stark differences due to insufficient soil sulfur levels at site.
Figure 5. Response to planter applied nutrients at Geneseo, IL, trial location. Stark differences due to insufficient soil sulfur levels at site.

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