The Right Steps to Buying Seed

The Right Steps to Buying Seed

Tight times make it extra important to mind the fundamentals of making the best choices

Seed selection is easily the most critical input purchase you make each year. It’s important to walk into meetings with seed dealers armed with the right questions and expectations.

“When you look at expected yield potential, seed is the biggest factor you can control,” says Luke Cole, Channel technical agronomist.

With so much riding on the decision, it’s essential to have a plan for each field—and stick to it even when the stress of planting season tempts you to deviate. Factor in yield expectations along with planting and harvest conditions. 


The first piece of planting information to consider is relative maturity. This decision on the front end will hopefully prevent bottlenecks on the tail end.

“We recommend spreading out maturity a bit to help your harvest schedule,” says Darren Barker, Pioneer technical services manager for Iowa. “Stay within the maturity window for your area, but stagger tassel and harvest.”

Corn used for grain should reach black layer a minimum of one to two weeks before the first killing frost, according to Ohio State University Extension. Later-maturing hybrids tout higher yields, but the extra costs of an early frost or wet grain could outweigh benefits. 

After you’ve narrowed your options to hybrids or varieties within your maturity range, factor in your actual production history (APH) for each field. This step in the process helps you decide if you should aggressively go after yield or select a more conservative, defensive product.

“If you have a field that averages 230 bu. per acre, your seed options will be a lot different than what’s recommended for a 150 bu. per acre average,” Cole adds.

Seed can only do so much if you don’t account for yield-robbing diseases, insects and weeds. Some diseases, such as sudden death syndrome in soybeans and Northern corn leaf blight, can carry over from year to year. Don’t forget to also take note of stalk rots because they affect standability.

“Figure out what’s the right fit for disease and soil,” Barker says. “Then manage hybrids accordingly.”

Some hybrids or varieties have better genetic defense against a specific fungus or disease. Most seed companies provide a scorecard that details how their products stack up against common problems. 

If your field has reoccurring problems, it might be beneficial to select for better genetic resistance.

When discussing seed options, be sure to mind the numbers. There is power in knowing the hybrid’s or variety’s yield history in your area, the number of local farmers who plan to use the hybrid or variety (it could mean less supply) and the numbers that identify the product in the bag.

Study actual test plots planted with soil, climate and management practices similar to your own. “Taking 
factors such as these into account might add another 15 bu. or 20 bu. per acre, compared with picking hybrids based on general plot performance,” says Farm Journal Field Agronomist Ken Ferrie. 

When analyzing test plot data, keep in mind several companies can market genetically identical hybrids. “Planting four hybrids from four different companies doesn’t diversify risk if they have the same genetics,” Ferrie says. 

To avoid planting identical genetics from several companies, check the seed tags. Under the Federal Seed Act, companies are required to include the unique variety name (as opposed to the company’s brand name or number). You also can ask your seed rep to help identify similar genetic lines sold by other companies. Or, you can buy all your hybrids from one company. 

Don’t be afraid to try new hybrids and varieties, Ferrie adds, but give them a test drive in your own fields or team up with a neighbor before you spend thousands of dollars. 

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