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Variety selection is one of the earliest and most critical decisions a grower will make each year.

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In choosing varieties or hybrids, you must sort through relevant information such as technology packages for pest/weed management, relative maturity, drought tolerance, quality characteristics, and more. Determining what’s best for your geographic region and your particular fields, soil types, and management practices are critical as your final decisions can profoundly influence your farm’s ultimate productivity and the season’s profitability.

For just about every grower, balancing yield potential with the traits suited for your environment can be daunting. Additionally, it's worthwhile to keep the end customer in mind: some buyers are willing to pay a premium for grain grown from certain varieties. Below, we discuss some  key considerations when it comes to choosing what varieties to plant, whether you’re considering cotton, rice, wheat, corn, or soybeans.

Spread Your Risk

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Plant Certified Seed of Several Varieties

Growers are always going to prioritize yield when selecting seed varieties but planting just one high-yield variety exposes you to unnecessary risk. Every variety has strengths and weaknesses; therefore, choosing several varieties, which otherwise differ in relative maturity dates, pest resistance and disease resistance, will spread your risk, giving you a better chance for a successful and profitable year.

Experiment with New Varieties

When you find a variety that works in your fields, you want to stick with it--for good reason. Seed varieties and hybrids that have performed well in previous years will traditionally reward you in the future. 

In spite of the apparent logic to that approach, don’t overlook the potential benefit that new varieties can offer. New varieties and hybrids are entering the wheat market at a record pace. The latest varieties frequently boast higher yield, improved resistance packages, or other valued traits. 

When trying new varieties treat your farm as a research plot. With present-day technologies on planters and combines understanding a product's performance on your farm is completely manageable. Split fields provide an understanding of a product's performance on different soil types and management practices. Too often it is tempting to chase the winner of one or two "local" trials. If you were to look at one plot and have 95% confidence that one corn hybrid would beat another in a 200 bushel yield environment, that hybrid would have to win by 40 bushels. Differences this great are extremely rare. Large acreage trials on your farm are more indicative of performance. 

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Spotlight on Wheat

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Until recently, growers found the wheat varieties that worked for them and planted those each year. There weren’t a lot of new options, so growers didn’t need to pay much attention to the market. However, in the last ten years, technology advances have exponentially increased the competition in wheat genetics, with various players developing excellent varieties at a rapid pace.

A good example of how you can benefit from monitoring new varieties is the case of Everest and Zenda. For nearly ten years, Everest has been the number-one planted wheat variety. It is dependable and possesses the rare quality of being tolerant to scab. But in 2017, the Kansas Wheat Alliance released a new hard red winter wheat variety called Zenda. Like Everest, Zenda has scab tolerance, but it improves on Everest by being more disease tolerant—it has better resistance to Stripe Rust. Other companies are expected to come out soon with their own scab-tolerant varieties, as well.

This new bounty of options will allow wheat farmers to prioritize scab tolerance in their seed selection while having the ability to spread their risk by selecting seeds with different maturity ratings, etc. The payoff for keeping up-to-date with new varieties is clear.

Balance Varied Choices with Good Stewardship

Producers frequently prioritize disease, weed, and insect tolerance when making seed selection decisions. Growers know well the benefits of controlling pests: improved crop conditions translate to yield and profitability gains. 

Combinations of defensive trait packages like those described in Zenda and other genetics can also lead to financial savings. By placing foliar disease tolerant hybrids in river valleys and areas prone to fungal pathogens, growers can prioritize genetic resistance over fungicides.

Herbicide and pesticide resistance issues have impacted crop-production performance in every agricultural crop. If you want to get the most out of these technologies, crop rotation and chemistry rotations should be as carefully considered as the trait packages of your genetics. 

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Spotlight on Rice

2002 was a breakthrough year in the rice industry. Researchers at the LSU AgCenter developed Clearfield rice, a non-GM rice that, for the first time, allowed for the chemical control of red rice (using the herbicide Newpath and other ALS chemistry). The outcome was cleaner fields and, as a result, greater yield. From the beginning, Clearfield’s stewardship recommendations were to avoid planting consecutive years of Clearfield rice and to rotate herbicides with alternative modes of action. However, for various practical and financial reasons, growers didn’t always observe those guidelines. Within 15 years, red rice had begun to develop a resistance to Newpath.


Fortunately, researchers have developed a new non-GM, herbicide-tolerant rice called Provisia. Provisia just received EPA approval for the 2018 season. With its introduction, you no longer have to rely on a single technology to fight red rice.

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Now the onus is on rice farmers to use good stewardship practices, so resistance doesn’t develop with the Provisia system as it did with Clearfield. Provisia isn’t meant to replace Clearfield; it should be seen as a companion to it. Indeed, the technologies must be kept separate and cannot be planted consecutively—Provisia isn’t resistant to Newpath; neither is Clearfield resistant to the Provisia herbicide. Furthermore, stewardship recommendations are to rotate Clearfield rice, then a Roundup Ready or LibertyLink soybeans or corn, then Provisia rice.

Evaluate Crop Quality

At harvest the ability of the crop to stand until you harvest it, augur without splitting, and dry down in a timely manner can all effect quality. Dockage fees for foreign matter, moisture and test weight are common.

But what about greater protein, more starch, reduced aflatoxins, non-GM and micronaire? These are just a few of the means to derive more value from your crop. While you may be focused on genetics as a tool to match the variety to your soil and management practice, don't forget about your buyer and what they value. 

Many of these selections start with the right genetics. Paying attention to buyers interests' and where premiums can be found should influence the genetics you choose. 

Spotlight on Cotton

Most U.S. cotton is exported to foreign mills, which generally demand cotton with high-quality fiber properties. While crop management practices can make a difference in cotton fiber quality, the seed’s genetics play the largest role. Thus, for cotton growers, stability must be considered in tandem with fiber quality. A cotton variety may be a consistent top performer, but the yields will have less value if the low quality of the cotton makes it difficult to market.

While selecting a seed for both stability and fiber quality would seem simple enough, in cotton breeding there’s a challenging relationship between yield and other desirable traits. Indeed, yield and fiber quality traits have a negative relationship; therefore, improvement of one often leads to degradation of the other. Few varieties provide both excellent yields and excellent fiber quality. That means that while cotton growers should assess stability when assessing which variety to plant, they must also pay attention to fiber quality consistency in each top performer.

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Conclusion

In crop production just about everything comes back to variety selection. Growers must live with their decisions all season long, and their choices affect all other crop management decisions. With so much riding on this key choice, you should take advantage of all the tools available to help with variety selection decisions.

Growers typically have a finger on the pulse of what matters most for their circumstance; still, there’s always something new to learn and always something new on the market. Fortunately, you have access to numerous tools to assist in the decision-making process. One of the greatest tools is your local agronomist. Trained to balance the genetic decisions with your management practices and risks in mind, these professionals have a wealth of knowledge to deliver a quality crop for your operation. 

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