Choosing Corn Hybrids with Diverse Genetics

Field Facts written by Pioneer Agronomy Sciences


Diversity is an important strategy to mitigate risk. In corn production, this means choosing diverse hybrid genetics to hedge against weather, disease or pest-related risks that might affect any particular product. However, because more seed companies are licensing hybrids from a single source, growers often do not get the genetic diversity they expect in their corn line-up.

The growing concentration of germplasm sources in the industry raises the possibility of similar genetics appearing in hybrids from different companies, and fewer truly different, top-performing hybrids.

Extension corn specialists see this as a serious problem. According to Emerson Nafziger, University of Illinois professor and Extension agronomist, corn growers typically plant a number of hybrids to spread risks. "Because growing conditions aren't very often near perfect, and we can't predict when a certain stress will occur, we plant different hybrids as insurance," Nafziger explains.

"The major stress we try to deal with in corn is during the pollination period," says Joe Lauer, professor and Extension corn agronomist at the University of Wisconsin. "And it's a very narrow window of time, usually about eight days beginning in the middle part of July through the beginning of August. If you plant all of your corn on all of your acres with one hybrid on the same day and hit a period of stress during pollination, then all of your corn is vulnerable." To reduce this risk, growers can either spread out planting dates or select hybrids with different maturities. This helps ensure that separate fields go through the pollination stage at different times, Lauer explains.

Diseases and other pest pressures also are major risks for corn production, Lauer says. "You can have different diseases or pests on the farm, based on its particular environment," he explains. "It pays to pay attention to the disease-resistance of hybrids and select for your field the best resistance package possible. Otherwise, you could have some trouble. It's important to have different genetics in your fields because of different disease and pest pressures in general." "Every hybrid has one or two sensitivities, and so planting diverse genetics — as long as this doesn't require using hybrids that carry obvious problems — is a sound management practice," Nafziger says.

Identical and Closely Related Hybrids

Choosing genetically diverse hybrids is a goal for most growers, but actually achieving diversity is often difficult. That's because growers could buy two hybrids with different brands and names yet they contain the same genetics, according to Lauer and Nafziger.

"There is a strong possibility that this happens," says Nafziger. "A comprehensive genetic analysis of all of today's hybrids would reveal considerable relatedness. And, in some cases, hybrids with different names would be genetically identical. This is possible because some companies that originate hybrids license their production and sell to other seed companies," Nafziger notes. "Most companies do this on a non-exclusive basis, meaning they can license the same hybrid or inbreds to more than one seed company."

Nafziger notes many related hybrids are not identical, but it's difficult to know the extent to which a slightly different genetic makeup affects performance in the field. Lauer agrees. "I think the danger of selecting similar genetics between companies has been the case for some time," he says. "The only time you wouldn't have it is when a seed company has its own breeder and its own genetics."

Steps Growers Can Take

To help ensure you're planting unique genetics, consider the following suggestions (from Nafziger, Lauer and Paul Carter, Pioneer agronomy sciences manager):

  • Buy unique hybrids across a range of maturities that match your operation.
  • While Federal seed law allows seed to be sold under a brand name, it also requires the seed corn tags or bags to identify the variety name. To spread your risk, check the variety name on the tag to make sure you're not planting hybrids from two different companies that have the same variety name.
    • Your seed provider can help you locate the variety information on the tag or bag. They can also help you better understand how much genetic diversity you're purchasing within the lineup of the company they represent.
  • Pay particular attention to harvest moisture values of hybrids tested in the same trial. If they are more than one or two moisture percentage points different, they most likely are different hybrids. A good relationship with a knowledgeable and experienced seed company representative also can help you obtain transparent information about the genetics of hybrid seed products you buy.

Genetic Diversity in Hybrids from Pioneer

Pioneer offers real genetic diversity. Each and every Pioneer® brand hybrid is a unique product. No other product on the market will offer the same genetic and trait combination to growers. Pioneer customers can be certain that each Pioneer brand hybrid is different from other Pioneer brand hybrids and genetically different from competitive brands. Your Pioneer sales professional can help you select a package of hybrids with diverse genetics and the right combination of traits for each particular field.

Pioneer products are unique in the marketplace

  • Pioneer inbreds, varieties and hybrids are specific to Pioneer and are proprietary. They cannot be used by other companies without Pioneer's express consent
  • Pioneer has developed its products from a unique genetic base that has been developed over the last 80 years and which continues to increase in diversity.
  • Germplasm is at the heart of Pioneer's business and is key to the performance of products.
  • Growers have invested in Pioneer products with the understanding the company will continue to re-invest in the development of improved products. Pioneer's ability to continue that mutually beneficial process depends on the ability of the business to protect the germplasm it has developed.
  • Pioneer has initiated and maintains a scientifically proven testing program to help determine if there has been a misappropriation of Pioneer germplasm among its competitors.
  • Pioneer supports the Federal Seed Act and is in compliance with all seed labeling regulations. Representing the same hybrid as two or more different varieties is a violation of the Federal Seed Act, which serves to protect farmers and growers from this danger.
  • Crops are always at risk from disease, insects and weather. Varieties that are based upon different genetics when coupled with transparent labeling allow farmers to manage production risks that could be associated with any one particular genotype.
  • Without assurance of the differences between hybrids, growers don't have the ability to make good risk management choices.