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Using Data for Better Seed Selection

Red combine harvesting corn at an SDSU Extension CPT plot.
The SDSU Extension crop performance testing crew works to harvest plots near Miller, S.D. Courtesy: Jon Kleinjan

As harvest wraps up across the region, winter preparation and planning for next year begins. Each year it seems like seed selection is pushed up earlier and earlier by discounts and incentives from seed companies. Trying to choose the right variety to plant can be difficult and overwhelming, but keep in mind there are a few key characteristics to look for.

Yield trial results are a key component when making sound seed selection decisions. The SDSU Crop Performance Testing program releases new crop performance results each year, as do surrounding state land grant institutions. Universities publish yield data from multiple companies; trials are replicated, randomized, and set up as unbiased as possible. Aside from university data, local elevators, seed dealers, and other ag businesses often plant test plots as well. This type of local data can be useful but remember that it may not be replicated or may only contain seed lines from a single company. Visit the SDSU Extension Crop Performance Testing page to view current and past crop performance results.

Selection Considerations

When thinking about corn hybrids or soybean varieties in particular, there are several factors to weigh.

Yield Data

High-yielding cultivars are typically priority number one for producers; however, there are many factors that should be considered when sifting through yield data. Corn or soybean cultivars should be carefully evaluated for consistent performance in multiple locations and/or locations with a similar growing environment to the field seed is being selected for. Performance over years is also a very important consideration. Environmental conditions in any given season may favor one variety over another.

Plant Disease Tolerance

Know field history and plan accordingly for disease tolerance. If a particular pest is an issue, consider making field management changes and look for cultivars that are tolerant or resistant to the disease. In many cases, tolerance or resistance is one of the best ways to control a pest (ie: Soybean Cyst Nematode, Phytophthora, Goss’s Wilt, etc.) and can eliminate extra fungicide spray passes.

Emergence and Vigor

Excellent emergence and plant vigor are an integral part of achieving intended plant population. Many modern cultivars offer emergence and plant vigor ratings. Vigor ratings can be especially helpful as a risk management tool when choosing corn and soybean lines long before planting occurs. High vigor and emergence ratings help to minimize the risk of losing yield due to plant stress from plant pests and weather events. Excellent plant emergence is very important, considering the cost of seed.

Green Snap

In corn fields, depending upon growth stage and position in the landscape, green snap is a concern when wind storms arise. If green snap is a common problem in a given area or wind storms are frequent, green snap ratings should be an important consideration.

Seed Cost

Seed costs seem to climb higher each year with the release of new and emerging technologies aiming to improve yields. Early adoption seed discounts can be very tempting, but remember that choosing the right seed is almost always more important in determining final yield than other inputs used during the growing season. Waiting for appropriate yield data and/or getting a better look at the growing season weather may make it worth losing some discount dollars to ensure the best seed selection possible.

Crop Maturity

Weather is tough to predict, but most growers know what maturities work best in their local environment on a ‘typical’ year. It is important to choose maturities that are appropriate for a farms growing environment. That being said, some years may favor early-maturing cultivars while others may favor later-maturing cultivars so it is good to hedge one’s bets by planting multiple hybrid or variety maturities in an appropriate range.

Stacked Traits

Many modern hybrids and varieties offer transgenic (stacked) traits that protect crops from herbicides and insects. Although these options can simplify management, often times producers do not need all of the traits offered in a transgenic package. If resistance to particular herbicides or insecticides has developed, take special care when selecting cultivars with transgenic technology.


In areas where soil moisture is often high and/or late harvests often occur, corn lodging or standability (breakage below the ear) ratings are an important consideration. Many environmental factors can affect corn hybrid standability, but good lodging ratings can serve as an increased level of insurance when planning for next year. Keep in mind that higher plant populations (above 33,000 plants/acre) often cause an increase in lodging potential.


Corn drydown ratings are helpful to predict an approximate ideal harvest. Avoiding drying fees or dockage at grain outlets is important to many growers and reduces input costs. If a farm has minimal or no grain drying capabilities, in-field drydown should be taken into special consideration. Knowing the drydown rating of a corn hybrid can also aid in choosing the proper grain maturity.

In Summary

Selecting a corn hybrid or soybean variety can be an overwhelming decision, but taking time to choose the best option is of great importance. Look at university and private data at a wide range of locations. Lines that consistently perform well across many different climates and environmental conditions are likely to perform well next year.

Resource: Licht, M. Choosing a Corn Hybrid or Soybean Variety, ISU Extension and Outreach. 2019.