Brent Rendel couldn’t believe what he was seeing, so he double-and tripled-checked to make sure. In 2017, he thought he found two ringer soybean varieties, but the truth is he found only one, sold by two seed companies. Rendel’s “insurance,” buying seed from two different companies, wasn’t as foolproof as he thought.
That single variety represented about one-third of his soybean acres. Lesson learned: Now, he is even more mindful of genetic overlap.
As you start to plan for next season, one key way to protect your fields from adverse weather and pests is through genetic diversity.
“When we talk about hybrids we talk in families of hybrids,” says Kevin Cavanaugh, director of research at Beck’s Hybrids. “We want customers to know if there are similar genetics. At Beck’s we end the number of the product with the same two-digit number, so farmers know it has a shared parent.”
AgriGold also identifies similar genetic families in its “Field GX” system, says Dustin Bowling, AgriGold western agronomy manager. “GX families can show similar genetic lineage but also show when hybrids have the same visual attributes.”
One way to ensure genetic diversity is to ask—company breeders or agronomists will likely be able to help you identify shared genetics. However, they might not always be able to help if identical genetics cross into brands they don’t represent, like they did for Rendel.
“We saw an increase this year [compared to 2017] both in total number of tags contributed and the number of relabeled bags,” says Matt Meisner, head of data science, Farmers Business Network (FBN). Rendel realized he planted 750 acres of the same seed when he received the FBN Seed Relabeling report. “We saw 45% of corn varieties are sold by multiple companies and 53% of soybeans are sold by different companies.”
FBN refers to it as “relabeling,” a process in which genetic providers license the same hybrid or variety to multiple seed companies. This means you could see the exact same genetics in two different seed bags.
“We firmly believe choice is important, which is why we have the routes to market we do,” says Quinn Showalter, Syngenta head of sales for NK seeds. “There are more than just genetics and traits [in the seed decision]; it includes service, seed treatment, financing, logistics and price.”
Syngenta is one of about five major genetic suppliers in the U.S.
“Without licensing, there would only be five brands in the U.S. and farmers would have limited choices and could possibly not have access to the highest performing genetics,” Cavanaugh says. “[Licensing gives] the ability to purchase the highest performing genetics for their area in the brand they choose.”
The risk of companies selling the same seed is farmers planting multiple fields with the same genetics.
“I don’t think the problem is the idea of relabeling—there are many reasons why a company would,” says Charles Baron, FBN co-founder. “We think companies need to be transparent about genetics because that’s what protects the farmer’s genetic risk, [and] it gives them an open, competitive marketplace.”
To learn how to identify seed with potential genetic overlap and what that means, visit bit.ly/diversify-genetics