A livestock breeder who sold show pigs once said, as he loaded a showpig in my truck, that in the spring they're all winners. Then reality comes along, and they can't all win. Some don't turn out as we hoped. But we start over, and by next spring, we're excited because we think we've got a winner again."
Steve Nichols, Delphi, Ind., was talking about pigs, but he could have been talking about corn hybrids. They're all winners when the seed is in the sack and salesmen are showing you glossy brochures and pointing out the good points of each one he tries to sell you. Then you plant them, and by this time of year, some are winners, but some have warts. It'll soon be time to look for a new set of winners.
That should start, says Dave Nanda, a crops consultant, Indianapolis, Ind., with walking fields and test plots to see how what you planted performed. One of the biggest warts this year is gray leaf spot. Weather conditions have favored the disease since early spring. In fact, it would be difficult to draw up a scenario any more friendly for the spread of this fungus across most of the Corn Belt than the one that unfolded this year.
But if you walk fields, you will find big differences in how much gray leaf spot affected leaves, even in fields that were sprayed with fungicide. And just because a field was sprayed doesn't mean it was the end of all gray leaf spot. We've seen corn sprayed twice that still had some gray leaf spot lesions on upper leaves.
You'll also notice which hybrids are being attacked by bugs and borers, and which aren't. A hot insect right now is western Bean cutworm. If the hybrid has the Herculex trait in it, it won't be affected. Otherwise, ears may be punctured in four or five places each.
You will also find differences in ear placement. Maybe part of it is due to high rainfall amounts or planting date, but much of where the plant places the ear is genetics. If it's placed very high, the plant may be more subject to lodging later in the year. It's a trait worth noting.
You'll find some hybrids with cobs pushing out of the husks at the end of the ear by now. The ears may be filled to the tip, but do you really want a hybrid that pushes open the husk in late July or early August, exposing it to moisture and pathogens? See how it yields, but keep track of traits like that one as well.
If you pull back shucks, some will have 16 rows, some 20, others only 14. Weather plays a role, but it's also partly genetics. Unless the ears with 14 rows are longer or the population is thicker, they'll have a hard time keeping up with the yield of other hybrids at harvest.