How to avoid planting the same genetics over and over
Here’s a riddle: Farmer Smith wants to spread risk on his farm, so he selects four different hybrids from four distinct seed brands. Even so, he ends up planting the same genetics across the farm. How can this be?
The answer lies in licensing. When a company develops a hybrid or variety, it can either sell it or further license it to other companies, each of whom rebrands the seed as its own.
Some farmers might be surprised this happens, but Emerson Nafziger, University of Illinois Extension agronomist, says it’s a pretty logical move from a business perspective.
"For example, if a leading germplasm provider came up with a hot hybrid, you could see why a lot of companies want to sell it," he says.
Nafziger says he’s not overly concerned by the practice, although he notes that farmers should at least be aware of the phenomenon.
So how can you tell if two bags of differently branded seed contain identical genetics? The solution is often right on the bag. As mandated by the Federal Seed Act, the patented variety number must be listed on each seed bag or tag. But there’s a wrinkle to this practice—certain states permit variety numbers to be documented simply as "Variety Not Listed." Farmers can’t
always rely on the label to provide the exact variety information they want.
Dave Nanda, director of genetics and technology for Seed Consultants Inc., offers six smart ways to avoid planting brands with identical genetics.
1 Ask your seed salesman where a particular hybrid they are selling came from. "Any salesman worth his salt should be able to tell you or find out from his company," Nanda says.
2 Seek out at least two gene pools. Several major seed companies license their genetics as inbred lines to foundation seed companies such as Corn States, Illinois Foundation Seeds, Green Leaf Genetics, MBS Genetics and Thurston Genetics, Nanda says. These companies then test hundreds of hybrid combinations in their own research plots, recommend the best hybrid combinations and sell the foundation seeds of these hybrids to smaller and medium-sized companies.
3 Don’t go "whole hog" on a hot variety. "The farmer should be an innovation leader but not a cutting-edge leader," Nanda notes. "If you’re on the cutting edge, you risk bleeding to death."
4 Plant different maturities from the same brand.
5 Develop a plan of action for new hybrid introduction.
6 Set up your own on-farm test plot. This will allow you to compare hybrids with the same maturity side-by-side. Test plots are also a good way to try out new crop inputs or management practices on a small scale, Nanda says. "It might be hard to find the time to set up a test plot, but I highly recommend it," he says. "Treat it like an observation plot if you don’t have the time to treat it like a true test plot."
A related risk-aversion practice, selecting hybrids based on their "racehorse" or "workhorse" ability, might be a little overvalued, but it can still make sense, Nafziger adds. Farmers should be on the lookout for hybrids that have shown consistent performance across variable soil types and environmental conditions, he says.
You can e-mail Ben Potter at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For a list of states that require the actual variety name on seed bags and those that allow "Variety Not Listed," visit www.FarmJournal.com/variety_name.