Evaluating Corn Varieties for Ohio Organic Farmers

Final Report for FNC99-247

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 1999: $12,025.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2001
Region: North Central
State: Ohio
Project Coordinator:
Charlie Eselgroth
Innovative Farmers of Ohio
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Project Information


My wife, Jamie, and I operate a 600 acre cash grain and livestock operations. We raise corn, soybeans, wheat, hay, beef cattle, and sheep. Management intensive grazing is used with the livestock. 68 acres of our cropland is currently Certified Organic. Another 125 acres is in transition to Certified Organic. On the remaining 400 acres of cropland, we use a no till system that utilizes crop rotation and cover crops extensively. These practices have allowed us to substantially reduce herbicide and fertilizer use in our no till system. The other farmers participating in this project are all Certified Organic.

Our main goal with this project is to identify corn varieties that do well in the special circumstances that generally exist in organic systems, such as later planting, lower populations, increased weed pressure, lower nutrient inputs, higher organic matter levels, etc. Many organic producers suspect that corn varieties developed for high-input, conventional production systems may not be the best suited to organic systems.

Several secondary goals would be: 1) to make seed companies aware of a small but growing market for varieties adapted for organic production, 2) to demonstrate to conventional farmers that organic farming is a viable economic options, and 3) to build a professional working relationship between organic farmers and university personnel.

The main value of this project is to give Ohio organic farmers more and better information to use when making seed buying decisions. Several producers, myself included, have used the information to select seed for the 2001 growing season.

This project has also raised awareness of organic agriculture among groups that traditionally have had very little contact with or knowledge of organic production systems, most notably, university extension and the seed industry. Several have expressed surprise that organically produced corn could yield this well.

It has also been interesting and extremely gratifying to see how the farmers have embraced this project. When I was recruiting farmers in the winter of 2000, many were very hesitant. Most had never been involved with research and were unsure if they could do it. When we had out meeting in January 2001, to go over final results and plans for the coming season, the mood was entirely different. The farmers were confident, proud of what they had accomplished, and ready to get started on the coming year.

I hope this project will also help those in conventional agriculture to view organic farmers as the professional, businesslike manages that we are.

The study was conducted as a randomized complete block design using the 10 farms as blocks or replicates. Twelve varieties were selected by producers at a planning session to prepare for the study. These varieties included food grade and feed grade corn. Two open pollinated varieties were added to the selections to respond to inquiries regarding their performance in Ohio. The varieties were randomized at each farm ( on replication per location) in field length strips averaging nearly 1200 feet in length with widths varying from 10 to 60 feet (4 rows to 24 rows), but averaging 24 feet. Farmers were instructed to use planting rates they normally use with the only seeding rate recommendations being for Baldridge 611 and Cash RS. Providers of the seed for those two varieties recommended rates should be kept close to 20,000 seeds/acre.

Producers were asked to record the date for each variety when half the plants had achieved the R1 growth stage (first leaf unfolded after emerging). Soil samples were taken approximately three to four weeks after planting, corresponding to what would be the time of sampling for side dress nitrogen recommendations in conventional fields. Early season stand and height data were the averages of 5 replications per variety per farm taken at soil sampling time.

The entire plot area was harvested at farm nos. 2, 3, 6, 7, 8, and 9 to reduce operator inconvenience. Farm no. 1 harvested the west three rows of six row strips; farm no. 10 harvested the center four rows of six row strips. Farms no. 4 and 5 harvested ears of corn by hand using 40 row feet and 80 row feet samples respectively. All other data other than yield, grain moisture and test weight were taken from the center two rows of each variety strip plot.

All but one of the fields sampled low levels of nitrate nitrogen in the soil. These fields, had they been conventional fields, would have had nitrogen fertilizer applied to achieve optimum corn yields. E.g. Iowa recommendations would suggest additional N for nitrate levels below 21 ppm. Farms no. 5 and 6 were below optimum P and K levels. Farm no. 1 was below optimum P and farm no. 10 was below optimum K.

Excessive rain in the northern areas of the state particularly in the central and eastern sections delayed planting for participating producers. Originally it was planned to have 14 certified organic farms participate in the trial, however, only 11 farms were able to plant corn successfully. The excessive moisture also hindered weed control after planting. They very wet conditions in June resulted in one less rotary hoe or cultivation pass than the producers normally plan. Not all the varieties in one planted field flowered normally and the field was chopped for silage.

Organic grain producers regard early plant vigor as an important characteristic of varieties for their weed management programs. Normally planting is done later than conventional farms to mechanically control early occurring weeds. Once the corn emerges, fast growth is desirable to compensate for late planting and to provide a canopy over weeds that emerge after planting. Of the varieties tested in this trial, the Agrigold hybrid was the quickest to emerge at 9.1 days after planting. This was not significantly different from the Bird, Doebler, Pioneer, Schlessman, Steyer and White Cap varieties. Of this early emerging group, Bird, Doebler, and Steyer had the greatest growth rate. French’s was significantly taller at 3 to 4 weeks after planting than any other variety with the exception of Doebler and Steyer.

Organic producers have a difficult time attaining seed that is not commercially treated. For this trail, all of the varieties were treated, except for the two open pollinated and Yoders. Permission was attained from the International Office of the Organic Crop Improvement Association so that the certification status of participating producers would not be jeopardized by the use of chemically treated seed. Interestingly Yoders had an emergence of only about 80% of the seeding rate, which was significantly lower than all other varieties with the exception of White Cap (OP). The Yoders and Baldridge varieties were significantly slower than all other varieties in number of days to emergence after planting. The other untreated variety, Cash RS, was in the mid-range of performance in regards to emergence.

Agrigold A6447 yielded significantly better than all the other varieties with the exception of French’s 440, Doebler 636XY, NC+ Organics 4880 and Pioneer 34K77. One draw back to the Agrigold A6447, however, was its tendency to be among the varieties that remain high in harvest moisture. The Agrigold variety’s harvest moisture was significantly management factor for certified organic producers. The open pollinated varieties used in this trial performed poorly largely due to excessive lodging, stalk breakage and barren plants relative to the other varieties. As several farm sites, the two open pollinated lines were already lodging severely by silk time. The open pollinated varieties consistently yielded less than half of the yields obtained by the better performing hybrids.

In general, the varieties were grown under typical organic farm conditions with moderate weed pressure and marginally low soil fertility. The results are only for one season. This trail will be repeated next year to further confirm the performance of promising varieties.

The authors would like to express their appreciation to all the participating producers for their time and efforts. Thanks are also due to the North Central Region Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program for providing a producer grant. We also appreciate the assistance of OSU Agricultural Technical Institute student Rhonda Rinehart for data collection during the summer. We would also like to thank the seed companies involved for providing free or discounted seed for the project. Producer Gary Mennell and Rich Pratt, OARDC plant breeder also provided free seed of the open pollinated lines.

We are trying to get the Research Report distributed as widely as possible. We have distributed copies to all farmer participants and to the seed companies that participated in 2000. As I’ve approached different seed companies about participating in 2001, I’ve passed on last years results to them.

Phil Rzewnicki and I have presented the Research Report at a monthly meeting of the Organic Crop Improvement Association Ohio Chapter 1, and at the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association (OEFFA) annual meeting. The report was available at a booth at the Innovative Farmers of Ohio (IFO) annual meeting. We plan to have the report published in the IFO and OEFFA newsletters. I am currently working with a free lance ag writer to do a story on our project, which will be submitted to farm publications across the Midwest.

Phil Rzewnicki has submitted the research report as one of 39 reports for the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center (OARDC) Special Circular 179, entitled “Agronomic Crops Team On Farm Research Projects – 2000.” This will be distributed in hard copy to all 88 county OSU Extension offices. It will also be available at Ohioline.edu, the OSU Ag College’s web site.


Participation Summary
Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.