Seed Selection Best Practices

02:46AM Jul 27, 2013
seed selection hybrids
( Lindsey Benne )

Base your decision on trust, yield consistency, stress triggers and more

Today’s rapid-fire seed technology has made corn and soybean producers more dependent on seed company reps and third-party data when making seed selections. With the average lifespan of a new hybrid less than three years, there’s not much time to plant on-farm test plots to see how a hybrid or soybean variety will perform.

One of the most important steps in the seed selection process is working with a trusted seed company rep. "If you are happy with yield and service, not much needs to change. All of the seed companies have some great genetics," says Nathan Mueller, South Dakota State University (SDSU) Extension agronomist.

It’s in the best interest of the seed company to recommend appropriate seed technologies. "If a hybrid doesn’t perform, a producer will drop the hybrid, for sure, and maybe even the seed company," explains Joe Lauer, University of Wisconsin agronomist.

Producers should not blindly trust the seed company, though. They need to search out objective, third-party yield data, either from university seed testing programs or independent testing firms such as Farmer’s Independent Research of Seed Technologies (F.I.R.S.T.), an association of producers testing seed in 15 states.  

"Most seed reps should welcome the discussion of third-party results," Mueller says. "You can pull the data up on the Internet together and print it off. The results will need to be interpreted and discussed."

Strategy plan. While producers can still learn from on-farm trials, Lauer no longer recommends personal experience as the sole decision-making factor. Instead, he says look at third-party data from at least three or four locations, and then average the results.

"It’s not all about yield," Mueller says, "but yield is the most important trait selection. In SDSU trials, the average difference between the lowest- and highest-yielding products were 49 bu. per acre for corn and 15 bu. per acre for soybeans in 2011 and 2012."

In Wisconsin and Ohio, the differences have been even greater. The results of 867 trials conducted since 1973 in Wisconsin show a 70-bu. average difference between the highest- and lowest-yielding corn hybrid. In Ohio trials, the differences for corn have been as large as 70 bu. per acre.

Yet the low-yielding hybrids must have performed at least average for the seed company to introduce them, says Peter Thomison, agronomist with The Ohio State University.

Consistency is key. Thomison recommends choosing hybrids that have performed consistently across three to four locations and for multiple years.

"There’s a tremendous turnover rate in hybrids," he says. In recent years, only about 25% of hybrids have been tested for two years, and fewer than 10% make it three years. Thus, the number of hybrids with multiyear data has significantly decreased.

Choosing a hybrid because it contains the most stacked transgenic traits will not ensure high yields. "Look for yield consistency across environments," Thomison advises.

Selecting a mix of hybrids that differ in maturity can reduce the risk of major yield loss from environmental stresses such as drought and record-high temperatures. In addition, corn farmers need to select for grain moisture (grain drydown), standability, different environmental conditions, yield-limiting factors such as disease and insects, and how a hybrid performs under various management practices.

For soybeans, Lauer says the three top concerns should be yield, pest resistance and lodging—in that order. Selling into the export market might also factor into the equation.

Pairing the right seed with the right field can be intimidating—knowing the potential that’s waiting to be tapped. The good news is there are people and data ready and waiting to arm you with the means to make an informed decision.

For a compilation of corn and soybean performance trials from across the country, visit