Monday, February 19, 2018

Higher Populations Do Not Always Equal Higher Yields

One of the most critical decisions a farmer must make each spring is what population to set the planter. This decision can make an enormous difference in overall performance in both yield and standability. All too often, growers like to set their planter at the start of planting season and leave it there while planting all their acres. This is not how to optimize the full potential of each seed. We all know the price of seed has gone up over the last decade, making it even more important to maximize inputs.

Most have heard growers can increase corn yields by increasing planting population, that isn't always the case. As corn genetics become more and more complex, we need to start treating different hybrids differently. Some hybrids have a fixed ear, meaning no matter how good the growing conditions are, the ear isn't going to be any larger than a predetermined size. Others, however, are considered flex eared; these hybrids can flex the size of the ear to make the most out of a good year. Flex hybrids also have the advantage of being able to help compensate for a row with gaps or uneven stand. Fixed eared hybrids usually respond better to a higher planting population, whereas with a flex hybrid you typically don't see an increased yields with an increased seeding rate.  You are often just increasing the plant to plant stresses with no added benefit.

Each year, the Burrus research team runs a series of population studies replicated 14 times in different environments. In this study, we place our current products as well as promising experimental products ranging in populations from 21,000 seeds/acre to 46,000 seeds/acre. This study, year after year, gives us the best planting rate for each hybrid to help maximize yields, manage risks, and optimize seed cost per acre. Yield is only one factor when looking at the data from this study Another important component is overall standability. When planting populations are increased, plant to plant stresses which will make the plant more susceptible to root lodging and stalk lodging are also increased. These different components are considered when making a planting population recommendation.

Another factor to consider when making your seed selection, along with product and price, should be seeding rate. With tighter margins in the agriculture sector, growers are starting to make more of their decisions based on price, which is understandable in these economic times. But to get the full picture, look at the price of seed on a per acre basis instead of per bag. Many of our competitors are recommending populations nearing 40,000 seeds/acre. Having to plant at these high populations to maximize yields makes the seed much more expensive, even if the seed is substantially cheaper per bag. 

As an example, let's look at hybrid A which has a recommended planting population of 38,000 seeds/acre and costs $260/unit, and hybrid B which has a recommended planting population of 32,000 seeds/acre and costs $300/unit. At first glance, many growers would choose hybrid A at a savings of $40/unit. However, once you take the seeding rate into consideration, you realize that on a per acre basis hybrid A costs $123.50/acre while hybrid B costs only $120/acre. That savings of $3.50/acre make hybrid B the better value even though the price per bag is higher. These differences change dramatically depending on cost and planting rates, but we implore you to take the time to run a cost per acre analysis when making your decisions.

With all that being said, price should not be your only consideration when making a seed selection. Every farm should diversify their portfolio with both offensive and defensive products. Burrus' Corn Planting Rates chart will assist you with getting our hybrids at the ideal planting rates for your soils. Each of these hybrids have been tested in a range of populations, across different soil types, over several years to place them in the corresponding categories (A, B or C planting ranges). This will not only help you reach the highest yields across your farm, but it will reduce the risk across your farm as well. This is just one more example of the true passion of the Burrus mission statement: "To provide quality seed, consistent performance, and exceptional value ensuring the ongoing success of our customers."

By Josh Gunther, Product Lead