The Seed Scouts

October 28, 2010 05:09 AM
The Seed Scouts

There are no fancy seed signs to indicate that Dave Shelton’s corn field is special. In fact, the 1977 Gleaner combine chewing through stalks outside Bethany, Ill., is the only clue that something is different.

Far from a relic, the four-row harvester is collecting yield results designed to help farmers make informed seed purchasing decisions for the coming year. Not only is the information free to all growers, it shows up in your in-box within days—even hours—of being collected.

Farmer’s Independent Research of Seed Technologies (F.I.R.S.T.) is an association of farmers focused on testing newly developed and trait-enhanced corn and soybean products. Started in 1997 by Kevin Coey, the group has grown from a handful of testing sites in Illinois to compiling results from some 60,000 test plots on 170 farms across 13 states. This year’s tests cover 917 seed products from 72 seed companies.

You can access the free yield evaluation reports through the association’s Web site ( In December, Farm Journal will publish the regional summaries of the top-yielding hybrids and soybean varieties. New this year is an online product selection tool called Seed Scout. Log on to to identify top-performing products by maturity and traits that fit your farm and practices.

Improved odds. Joe Bruce, general manager of F.I.R.S.T., says the trials are independent, third-party evaluations performed under real conditions. “Our goal is to put unbiased information into farmers’ hands when they are making hybrid selections,” he says.

University trials are a good independent source of information, but F.I.R.S.T. goes beyond individual site data. Product testing is grouped into zones based on central relative maturity, and these zones are further split into separate regional summaries.

“There are many good hybrids and varieties today. The challenge is finding those that fit your field and yield consistently. Choosing a product that delivers above-average performance across a wide geography improves your odds of obtaining excellent yields, since growing conditions vary from year to year,” Bruce says.

Participating seed companies pay to enter and select the products to be tested. The same products are tested at every plot location within a region (usually six sites for corn and four for soybeans). At each location, all tests are replicated three times to allow statistically valid comparisons.

Eric Beyers, who manages plots in central and southern Illinois, says that gives each hybrid 18 chances to excel. Tests are also split into early and full maturity groups.

Focus on the best. Like commercial seed producers, F.I.R.S.T. uses small plots (10'x40') to minimize the impact of variable soil types. Only the center two rows are used to measure yield. Moisture and lodging percentages are averaged for the farm and again for the region. The gross income figures report the dollar value of the grain less drying cost.

F.I.R.S.T. narrows the focus to the best products by reporting the top 30 performers. However, it is possible to find all products tested at the association’s Web site.

Farmer cooperators help choose the test sites, with attention given to topo-graphy, soil type and management practices common to a given region. They also provide all inputs, except for seeds tested. Not every seed supplier is represented in the trials, but cooperators have the opportunity to select a product to enter in their trial.

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