Wisconsin farmers are in the thick of corn harvest. With the delayed frost, some are finishing up silage harvest, while others have begun grain harvest. Early yield indications are good in many areas that had reasonable spring planting dates. Average yields of hybrids gown in the early- and late-trials at Galesville were 221 and 234 bu/A. However, the trials at Marshfield we had to abandon due to June flooding, and the trials at Chippewa Falls will be quite variable due to drought.
This is also the time of year when on-farm strip plots are evaluated. Field variability alone can easily account for differences of 10 to 50 bushels per acre. Be extremely wary of strip plots that are not replicated, or only have "check" or "tester" hybrids inserted between every 5 to 10 hybrids. The best test plots are replicated (with all hybrids replicated at least three times).
Don't put much stock in results from ONE LOCATION AND ONE YEAR, even if the trial is well run and reliable. This is especially important in years with tremendous variability in growing conditions. Years differ and the results from other locations may more closely match your conditions next year. Use data and observations from university trials, local demonstration plots, and then your own on-farm trials to look for consistent trends.
A few suggestions on how to evaluate research test plots:
- Walk into plots and check plant populations. Hybrids with large ears or two ears per plant may have thin stands.
- Scout for pest problems. Hybrid differences for pest resistance and tolerance should be monitored and noted all season, but will be most apparent in the fall. Counting dropped ears is a good way to measure hybrid ear retention and tolerance to European corn borers.
- Check for goose-necked stalks. This is often root pruning caused by corn rootworms. Hybrids differ in their ability to regrow pruned roots.
- Find out if the seed treatments (seed applied fungicides and insecticides) applied varied among hybrids planted, e.g. were the hybrids treated with the same seed applied insecticide at the same rate? Differences in treatments may affect final stand and injury caused by insects and diseases.
- Differences in standability will not show up until later in the season and/or until after a wind storm. Pinch or split the lower stalk to see whether the stalk pith is beginning to rot.
- Break ears in two to check relative kernel development of different hybrids. Hybrids that look most healthy and green may be more immature than others. Don't confuse good late season plant health ("stay green") with late maturity.
- Visual observation of ear-tip fill, ear length, number of kernel rows, and kernel depth, etc. don't tell you much about actual yield potential. Hybrid differences are common for tip kernel abortion ("tip dieback" or "tip-back") and "zipper ears" (missing kernel rows). Even if corn ear tips are not filled completely, due to poor pollination or kernel abortion, yield potential may not be affected significantly, if at all, because the numbers of kernels per row may still be above normal.
- Be careful with test plots consisting predominately of one company's hybrids. Odds are stacked in their favor!