Global food demand has risen continuously because of increasing population with greater food and energy needs. Corn production, however, is constrained by current and possible increased future variability in the weather. Earlier planting is a strategy for U.S. Mid-South corn producers to avoid typical summer droughts. However, planting early will increase the likelihood of seedlings exposure to cold temperatures. The objectives of this study were to evaluate corn hybrids planted when the conditions are desirable followed by low and moderately low temperatures to assess the variability among the vegetative and physiological parameters and to classify hybrids into different cold tolerant groups. Twenty one commercially-grown hybrids were subjected to three day/night temperature treatments; 29/21 °C (optimum), 25/17 °C (moderately low), and 21/13 °C (low) from 15 d after planting (DAP) for plants grown at optimum temperature. Shoot, root, and physiological parameters were measured, 32-34 DAP. Significant differences and interactions were observed among the temperature treatments and hybrids for most of the traits measured. Based on relative scores, developed in this study, AR1262 and P1636YHR were classified as cold tolerant and H68B and ST11504VT3 as cold sensitive. Cold tolerant hybrids and their associated morpho-physiological characteristics may be useful for breeders to develop new hybrids that could withstand low and variable temperatures during seedling growth and developmental period.
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