2011 Season Becomes Bookend For Comparison Purposes

Experts and plant breeders like extreme seasons so they know where limits are.

Published on: Dec 19, 2011

If you're the guy or gal who grows the corn, you would rather take an old-fashioned average season any day, whatever that is, than one that is extreme on the poor side. You enjoy when you get one where everything lines up to deliver bin-busting yields, but you know that's not reality either.

However, plant breeders and scientists who look at crops and try to answer questions say they need to have extreme years to set the boundaries for what's normal. For many producers in the Eastern Corn Belt, the 2011 season certainly set the boundary for extreme heat and for drought during the key reproductive period for corn. The number of days of 80 degrees of higher eclipsed records in many locations, and it came during the critical period for corn. When a year sets that kind of record- that's what a plant breeder or scientist is talking about when they say we need a year on one extreme to know where the limits are.

That's why breeders and people like Phil DeVillez, head of Purdue University's plot hybrid and variety testing program, see value in the results from a year like 2011. It gave hybrids or varieties that can withstand stress the ultimate opportunity to show what they can do. On the other hand, it may have exposed some weaknesses in hybrids or varieties that perform well in good years or even average years, but which fall apart when things get tough, as they did this past season.

That's why DeVillez and others believe there is no need to throw out data from last season. It still has value, even if your goal is to pick hybrids and varieties for your farm. You may not plant 100% of the entries that excelled this past year, but you may at least want to give them a second look.

What you also want to do is check out how hybrids and varieties performed in different environments. There were pockets where yields were good in 2011.

In the end you're looking for consistency, De Villez says. You need products that can hold their own in the average years, excel in good environments, and not fall apart under very tough conditions, such as 2011. So while you personally may hope you never see a 2011-type season again, don't discount its value to research, and don't throw out the information to be gleaned form it out of hand.