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Still going strong

The annual corn yield trials conducted by Iowa State University and the Iowa Crop Improvement Association reached a milestone in 2009: They’re 90 years old. Since 1920, the tests have offered unbiased information to farmers on the adaptation and performance of corn hybrids.

The 2009 test results are available to help farmers select the best hybrids for their needs. Like the rest of Iowa’s crop in 2009, harvesting the plots, which are grown on farms around the state, was delayed due to the cool growing season and unusually wet fall.

When Wallaces Farmer caught up with Bill Vinson and Bill Fjelland, they were harvesting plots on the Craig Hill farm near Milo in Warren County. It was Nov. 11, Veterans Day, and this was the latest Vinson had experienced; he’s been doing this since 1986.

Vinson and Fjelland are ISU employees, as is Chad Arnold who helps harvest the trials. Both the corn and soybean trials are held in six districts in the state, with three locations per district. There are 18 locations for corn and 18 for the soybean trials in Iowa. After Vinson and Fjelland finished at Hill’s farm in south-central Iowa, they loaded the two plot combines on trailers pulled by pickup trucks and headed back to Ames. The next trials to harvest were in northeast Iowa.

Key Points

• Iowa Corn Performance trials marked 90th year in 2009.

• ISU, Iowa Crop Improvement Association provide tests.

• Data helps growers select corn hybrids and soybean varieties.

Harvesting information

“These combines have an electronic scale on them to weigh the grain, and there’s a moisture meter,” said Vinson. The data is captured on a memory stick that goes back to Ames where it’s downloaded on a computer, the data analyzed, and results reported.

Vinson and Fjelland make maps of each field, writing notes to indicate reasons for variability in yield, including agronomic issues such as green snap damage and lodging.

Farmer Craig Hill and son Adam have had these corn plots on their farm for six years. Craig was contacted when ISU was looking for a farm for the trials. He is paid rent for the 5 acres. “It’s not a lot, but we get the crop,” said Hill. “ISU plants it. We spray it, provide the land and fertilizer. The seed companies provide the seed they want to enter. We farm it as we normally would, except ISU puts the seed in the ground and harvests it.”

These are mostly new, commercially available hybrids the companies want to get more data on. “I look at the results from these plots and also how the hybrids performed in other districts,” said Hill. “I zoom in on our soil type and the results in our area or as close to our location as possible.”

Objective, unbiased trials

Hill doesn’t make his final decision on hybrids to plant based solely on the plot performance. “We look at seed company data, too, and talk to dealers and company reps to get an idea if there’s a hybrid that really stands out,” he said. “We try to find out a little more about the hybrid.”

Hill likes the objective, unbiased way ISU conducts the tests. The plots are set up and managed carefully, and the data is statistically analyzed. “Even if I had my own on-farm trials or ran strip trials, it’s not a lot of value unless you replicate the trials,” he said. “ISU replicates their plots. Each entry is replicated four times.”

This article published in the January, 2010 edition of WALLACES FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2010.