Most athletic coaches would give anything to see how a player performs on home turf before signing day. Some farmers actually get that opportunity when it comes to choosing their hybrid seed lineup.
Several seed companies now offer farmers the chance to test experimental hybrids on their own farms, prior to commercialization. Knowing what genetics fit where is a great way to get ahead in the yield game.
AgReliant Genetics, which markets hybrids through AgriGold, Great Lakes Hybrids, LG Seeds, Producers Hybrids, Wensman and Pride, lets farmers test its most advanced experimental lines through its New Experimental Test (NET) program.
"Within each maturity zone where our companies do business, we set up test plots containing our most advanced experimental hybrids, the top two competitive hybrids and our top AgReliant hybrids," says Harry Brokish, director of product development. "For the experimental hybrids, NET is the last test they have to pass to make it into commercial release."
Participating farmers plant the experimental seed using their own tillage and fertility practices. Within each maturity zone, about 100 farmers receive the same 25 to 28 hybrids. In the fall, each farmer harvests his plot.
AgReliant agronomists evaluate the plots in late May or early June and again prior to harvest, recording plant characteristics and the host farmer’s observations. Participating farmers receive data from all the plots.
Not all experimental hybrids clear the NET hurdle, Brokish notes. Typically, three or four out of 10 or 12 move on to commercial production.
Pioneer Hi-Bred launched a similar program in 2010. The program is called IMPACT, short for Intensively Managed Product Advancement, Characterization and Training plots.
"IMPACT replaces a less extensive program called Product Advancement Trials," says Jerry Harrington, Pioneer’s North American sales and marketing public relations manager.
One of IMPACT’s goals is to test the new products in areas where they are best suited, Harrington explains. "Pioneer plants and harvests the plots, to ensure a high level of quality and testing," he notes.
Meet the experts. Farmers hosting IMPACT plots also help evaluate the experimental hybrids. "The host growers get to interact with Pioneer research scientists, agronomists and other experts, which, in itself, can be a valuable experience," Harrington says.
Monsanto Company, which develops varieties for DeKalb, Asgrow and several regional seed companies, calls its experimental on-farm testing program Crop Advancement Trials (CAT). It includes corn, soybeans, cotton, grain sorghum and canola. In the Monsanto program, hybrids or varieties are tested on farms for two years before being commercially released.
CAT has about 650 cooperators across the U.S., says Dale Sorensen, Monsanto corn systems lead. With corn, each on-farm plot contains 20 to 25 experimental hybrids with six to seven current commercial hybrids used as checks. Corn hybrids are planted in their own maturity zone and a little bit north and south to see how they perform, Sorensen adds.
Monsanto representatives assist with planting and harvesting of the plots. But each plot is grown using the farmer’s tillage, fertility and other management practices. Plot size can
range from a minimum of 500' in length to all the way across the field.
Experimental hybrids don’t include Bt hybrids because "we want to measure the yield gain that comes exclusively from genetics," Sorensen says.
Host farmers are invited to share their observations about the hybrids.
If you’re interested in joining the testing team, contact your local seed representative for more information. Positions are limited, so do it early to make the cut.