Corn is a major crop in Columbia County and North Florida. The primary use of locally grown corn is feed for livestock; particularly dairy, beef cattle, and poultry. Farmers depend on high quality corn seed and hybrids adapted to the challenging soils and climate of North Florida. Following a record national corn crop, an average of 171 bushels per acre nationwide, it is apparent that corn hybrids continue to improve. In fact, the US Dept. of Agriculture projects national average corn yield, or trend yield, to grow by 1.9 bushels per acre each year.
Corn seed begins with basic plant breeding. This includes mating male plants with female plants to produce genetically new plants. In corn, these new plants are called hybrids. These new hybrids are not just better, but are better adapted to improved management practices. For example, they tolerate being planted at higher populations allowing the farmer to grow more ears of corn per acre of land.
Here in North Florida we get a jump-start on the rest of the country due to our mild spring temperatures. This gives experts from other areas of the country an opportunity to visit before the peak of their production season. Mr. Sandeep Bhatnagar, a commercial corn breeder for Monsanto, recently visited to look at area corn fields grown with Monsanto seed. He offered new information about the hybrids to be released in the future. He indicated a major criteria is corn height. Farmers in the Southeast United States are interested in a shorter height, which is less likely to be blown over in rain and wind storms. Mr. Bhatnagar also said breeders are placing a high priority on disease resistance. Farmers often have to make multiple applications of fungicide to prevent disease. New hybrids should have improved disease resistance to reduce fungicide use. He also stated the important goal of meeting these criteria while delivering higher yields than possible using currently available hybrids.