The rule of thumb for years from plant breeders and agronomists has been to proceed cautiously when adding new hybrids or varieties to your line-up. Dave Nanda, a crops consultant, 1stChoice Seeds, likes to proceed slowly, adding in a small percentage of a new hybrid each year. And he always likes to have seen the hybrid in person, plus have yield data to back up claims that the hybrid is a good performer.
With the quick release of hybrids and varieties with new traits, that’s getting tougher to do. Truth is it’s been tougher for several years. The rate of release of new genetics, not even considering traits, ahs picked up considerably compared to even two decades ago. Many test plots used to carry columns for two and three year averages for hybrids, and some still do. But often genetics turn over so fast that by the time you get three years worth of results in the same plot on a hybrid, there’s already a different hybrid in the company’s line-up to take its place.
The fundamental shift is that if you wish to buy and plant the latest traits available, the amount of information you can get on these hybrids is likely to be less than you could get in the past. When it comes to yield trial information, it’s possible that in some cases, at least, there may be only a limited amount available.
So what do you do? Nanda suggests these things. First, develop a relationship with your seedsman. You will need to trust whoever is supplying you with the genetics and traits and find out as much as they will tell you about how a particular hybrid performs.
Second, ask for as much yield data as is available. While getting two or three year data may not be possible, perhaps the hybrid or variety was included in replicated plots at a number of locations across the country. Some may have been university trials, while others may have been farmer trials or even company-run trials. The ideal situation is tot find a plot where the hybrid with a trait is compared to an isoline, or hybrid that has the same genetics, except it doesn’t have the trait.
Third, try to see the hybrid in person during the growing season. It’s obviously too late for that this year, but it’s a good point to remember for next year. In person you can judge things like ear height, stalk size, rooting and presence or absence of disease for yourself.
Best you may be able to do for this year is ask pointed questions. Find out how the hybrid you’re buying handled key diseases and insects in 2009.