No farmer needs to be reminded about this crucial decision. You can’t run from it and procrastinate. It’s almost like paying taxes every year. The chore is unavoidable and – like it or not – has to be confronted.
It is what jump-starts every season and can make or break the success of a crop. A meticulous and precise strategy is required because a huge investment is at stake.
Does all of this sound familiar? It should. No matter how many other situations a farmer faces during the year, nothing is more important than deciding on a seed variety to plant in the new season.
Long-time cotton breeder Jane Dever of Texas AgriLife in Lubbock, Texas, says farmers shouldn’t be afraid of this undertaking as they prepare for 2011. In fact, she likens it to the thought process surrounding the purchase of a new car or truck.
“You have some basic things in mind when you walk into a car or truck dealership to buy a vehicle,” she says. “It’s the same principle when a farmer decides on a seed variety.”
She says yield and fiber quality are always at the top of any list that a cotton producer is studying. The real challenge is customizing that list and finding data on how a variety adapts to soil types in a region or performs against weed and insect pressure.
Keys To Variety Selection
Understanding The Data
Dever has a rare perspective in this area because she spent many years in the private sector before assuming her current position with Texas AgriLife.
She says it’s important for producers to understand data as they make these variety decisions.
“Sometimes when a farmer receives seed variety information from a company, it is averaged from across the entire country,” she says. “The numbers will look extremely good. A farmer really needs to focus on how well that variety has done in his own area.”
Seed companies regularly test varieties to see if their performance will cover a large number of acres. That is a standard industry practice. She says the best way to learn how a variety will perform is by replicated yield tests in a target environment for two or three years before making a decision.
Unfortunately, farmers don’t have that luxury today when varieties and new technologies are quickly launched nearly every year. Thus, there is the need to stay informed.
Look For Weaknesses
Texas: The New Battleground?
She also believes that producers should concentrate on other performance categories as they are evaluating varieties. It’s easy to hone in on the positive attributes of a variety and see why the plant performs so well. Dever, however, says every variety has a weakness, and this is where producers should spend more time studying data.
“If you have verticillium wilt on your farm, don’t match it with a variety that is weak on verticillium wilt,” she says. “What I’m trying to say is that you don’t want to match a variety’s weakness with the weakness on your farm.
“Let’s say you like a particular variety, and it performs well, but it was a little weak on nematodes. Don’t overlook that fact if you have some kind of nematode problem on your farm. Look for a variety with the same general characteristics and be aware of what will impact its performance.”
Another determining factor in a producer's variety decisions for 2011 might be how a variety did in 2010. In Texas, for example, a near record crop close to 9 million bales may influence whether a producer is ready to plant a new variety.
“If a Texas farmer had a good experience this year, he may want to stay with that same variety,” she says.
Even though the technology train continues to move fast in the cotton industry, Dever says cotton breeders are just as excited as producers about new varieties affecting profit potential.
In the final analysis, however, she is convinced that producers can make the right variety decisions if they spend some time researching a variety’s history and manage for risk.
“Even if you have noticed that one variety is doing a lot better than another one, don’t put all of your eggs into one basket,” she says.
Cream Of The Crop
Despite the annual influx of new varieties from the seed companies, some trends remain consistent. For example, Arkansas cotton breeder Fred Bourland says there are certain varieties that perform at a high level no matter how rigid the testing.
“I think we can learn something from this,” he says. “There is a group of varieties that always winds up at the top of the trials. You might say that the cream always rises to the top.”
The veteran Arkansas cotton breeder isn’t against technology that seed companies offer. Instead he wants more analysis.
“In the old days, a variety just slowly died and was pulled off the market,” says Bourland. “Today it’s completely different. Things move much quicker. The window has definitely narrowed for variety selection.”
As for his advice to producers when it comes to variety selection?
“Don’t believe everything you read,” he says with a laugh. “Proceed with caution and try to rely on the state official variety trials. Whenever you have the chance, look for good data.”
Contact Tommy Horton at (901) 767-4020 or firstname.lastname@example.org.