Are modern genetics worth the money?

By Harold Watters, Ohio State University Extension field agronomist

At summer field days and then at Farm Science Review, I had the opportunity to talk with growers about crop prices and how they plan to cut back on costs for 2019. While yield will help offset the cut backs, price is still a concern. One topic that came up several times was to change their genetics to cheaper hybrids or maybe drop traits. This thought somewhat concerns me.

I have conducted a number of trials and comparisons over the years and generally have learned that new is better when it comes to choosing a hybrid or variety. One such comparison I have been making over recent years is of a modern hybrid to open pollinated corn varieties. I know this is an extreme comparison but I do actually have some folks tell me they are looking for a modern open pollinated variety so they can produce their own seed. For 2018, I compared a modern traited hybrid, a modern non-traited hybrid, a modern open pollinated variety and an older open pollinated variety (Table 1). Reid’s yellow dent (the old OP) has a history in Ohio and has played a significant part in modern corn breeding.


Table 1. Yield and lodging results for 2018 corn comparisons near South Charleston, Ohio.

TreatmentModern hybrid – traitedModern hybrid –


Modern OPReid’s yellow dent
——— Yield in Bu/A ———
18,000 seed/A205.3192.3125.085.5
36,000 seed/A242.5219.6142.774.3
Lsd 0.1014.7
— Lodging 1-10 scale (1 standing, 10 flat) —
18,000 seed/A111.754.5
36,000 seed/A111.755.25
Lsd 0.100.7


Typically when I make this comparison between my modern hybrid and Reid’s yellow dent, I have about 100-bushel per acre advantage for the modern hybrid. This year, however, with lodging, insect feeding, disease, and a good growing season for these modern hybrids, the differences were a bit more. I use this information when talking with consumers about the value of modern technology in plant breeding. We can also see the benefit to increasing seeding rates for the modern hybrids.

Lodging likely had an influence on yield, with the open pollinated Reid’s yellow dent not standing well versus any of the “modern” corns standing quite well.

As to the economics (Table 2) and that thought on using modern hybrids versus open pollinated varieties, here is a limited economic comparison of the four corns used in this trial. Looks like the high priced seed is the winner — but keep in mind this also likely has the latest selection criteria applied, meaning it was chosen for sale as a high yield hybrid under current conditions.


Table 2. Economic considerations for 2018 corn comparisons near South Charleston, Ohio.


Yield (bu/A) under optimal conditions$/A gross at December corn priceEstimated $ cost/unit seedSeed cost/AValue/A in $
Modern – traited242.5$             856$             350$           158$           699
Modern non-traited219.6$             775$             250$           113$           663
Modern open pollinated142.7$             504$               75$             34$           470
Reid’s yellow dent (old OP)85.5$             302$               39$             9$           293


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