FIRST Corn Trials Surprise in Missouri

Majority of Drought-Hindered Corn Yield Trials Still Top 200 BPA in Missouri

Jason Jenkins
By  Jason Jenkins , DTN Crops Editor
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The harvest of FIRST corn yield trials across Missouri is nearing completion with some surprising results. (Photo courtesy of Bill Schelp)

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (DTN) -- Despite enduring drought conditions for much of the growing season in Missouri, today's corn hybrids proved to be surprisingly resilient, according to the results of yield trials conducted by Farmers Independent Research of Seed Technologies (FIRST).

At four of five locations across central Missouri, the top 30 early-season and full-season hybrids in the trials averaged yields greater than 200 bushels per acre (bpa), said Bill Schelp, FIRST regional manager.

"On those sites, we are close to our yield trend or down slightly, so I was pleasantly surprised with what we averaged considering how little rain we received from planting through the end of July," he said. "Of course, our cooperating farmers were also surprised that they were averaging above 200 bushels."

At the fifth site near Perry, Missouri, the decision was made not to take yields from test plots due to severe drought. Schelp said the site received only 6.5 inches of rain from April through July. At harvest, the field yielded 46 bpa, well short of its historical yield of 208 bpa.

Across northern Missouri, test plots to the west averaged between 219 bpa to more than 250 bpa. Those in the north-central and northeast portions of the state still topped 150 bpa while facing more extreme drought stress. One test location was yet to be harvested as of Oct. 10.

Since 1997, FIRST has conducted yield trials with the goal of providing timely, unbiased comparisons of corn and soybean seed genetics. The program currently tests corn grain, corn silage and soybean seed products in 15 states. In 2023, more than 500 tests took place at 300 locations.

Schelp said planting conditions were ideal when he began planting his corn plots April 11 in the Show-Me State. His central Missouri trials featured 32 early-season and 32 late-season hybrids, while his north Missouri trials included 44 hybrids in each category.

"We just started rolling and just kept going, finishing up planting in central Missouri on April 14," he said. His last corn plot went in the ground April 26. "We really didn't have any rain delays to speak of, but that led to the drought we experienced."

According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, less than 10% of Missouri was under any drought classification during the week Schelp started planting the FIRST test plots. However, by the end of May, the percentage had climbed to more than 80%. Conditions did not improve, and by July 4, more than 98% of Missouri was experiencing drought. Three of Schlep's five central Missouri research plots were all located in counties where the drought was categorized as extreme at the time. Conditions continued to deteriorate in north-central and northeast Missouri as the month progressed.

Widespread rain events were not common during most of the summer, Schelp said. Instead, crop survival depended on hit-or-miss pop-up showers sporadically providing a few tenths of an inch in precipitation.

"We all know that plants need water to grow, but with genetics today, these hybrids seem to be able to withstand some of these drier conditions longer," he said. "They can hang on until they get the rain. Our granddad's corn would not hang on like this."

Schelp noted the dry conditions at planting likely helped his research plots as the seedling corn plants were seeking moisture from the time they germinated. "They were driving roots down from the beginning," he added. "That had to have helped support the yields that we're seeing."

In early August, heavy rains were widespread across much of Missouri, bringing some areas more precipitation during that month than had been received during the previous three. While it temporarily lessened drought severity, its overall impact on the crop is debatable, Schelp said.

"August rains certainly helped some grain fill. As to how much, I don't know," he said. "If you look at our yield reports, the rainfall total for the season can be slightly misinterpreted because it includes rain that fell until harvest, even after the corn reached black layer. That rain received after black layer didn't increase corn yields."

While the drought conditions did reduce the incidence of pest and disease pressure throughout the season, Schelp said that he found tar spot in several locations where it hadn't been seen previously. "It's expanding its footprint and coming further south," he noted.

Harvest of soybean test plots has begun, and Schelp said all yield data will be made available as soon as possible to help growers advise their seed decisions for 2024.

For a complete look at FIRST harvest reports from FIRST test plots in Missouri and other states, go here:….

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Jason Jenkins