I ran into a farmer in the dairy section of the grocery store the other night. He talked about his favorite hybrid and how well it performed in 2020. He also told me about the hybrid that used to be his favorite. It did NOT perform so well in 2020.
GUESS WHICH ONE HE PLANTED TO MOST OF HIS ACRES?
Before you’re too quick to judge, what did your seed corn order look like last year? I bet you had a favorite hybrid that got more acres on your farm than others.
Perhaps the toughest thing about farming (besides marketing your crop) is that weather is so unpredictable from one week to the next. Is it going to be hot and dry? Could it switch on a dime and turn from drought to optimal moisture in the soil? Will a big wind storm show up early, late, or not at all? Will there be huge disease, insect, or weed outbreaks? We just don’t know. If you’ve farmed for more than one year, you have to agree it’s pretty much impossible to guess everything just right.
On our farm, 2020 was exceptionally dry in the latter half of the growing season. Corn and soybean varieties that won in the cool and wet conditions of 2018 and 2019 often struggled in the hot and dry weather of 2020. Other varieties responded in the exact opposite way. My point is if you didn’t plant at least a portion of your farm to the varieties that prefer hot and dry, you lost significant yield.
The only way to protect your farm is to diversify the crops you grow (if possible) and certainly to plant multiple varieties of each. One of the best presentations I’ve ever seen about how exactly to do this was from Dr. Elwynn Taylor, the long-time climatologist at Iowa State University. Elwynn was always asked to predict what kind of growing season was coming for the next season.
He would explain, for example, that there was a 70% chance of normal to above-normal precipitation and there was a 30% chance of dry weather. Accordingly, he would recommend you plant 70% of the farm to varieties that could handle wet feet and thrive and 30% of the farm to varieties that exhibit strong levels of drought tolerance.
Elwynn’ s presentations would go into far more detail than that, but it was always interesting to see someone who was not a farmer that really got it. The 70/30 split here is just an example, and we’re not saying that’s the right ratio for you. We are saying that some type of risk management plan is good, though. Plant multiple varieties from a good range of maturities. On our farm, we will have around 2000 acres of corn this coming year. I expect we will plant at least 12 different hybrids or more, and in most fields we will have 2 different varieties.
By spreading your risk, you will come out ahead over time and avoid the big mistakes. My dad, Ron, always said the difference between farmers who were successful and those who weren’t was the size of their mistakes. His point was that too big a mistake could put your entire business in jeopardy of bankruptcy. Planting multiple varieties will keep the size of any potential mistakes small, and that’s a good thing when it comes to risk management. No person on earth can predict which hybrid will be the top yielder next year. No amount of yield data, expert opinions, or personal experience will lead you to the ultimate answer, so why fight it?