4 Tips for Choosing the Best Varieties for Your Farm
Harvest may seem like it’s in the distant future when you’re surrounded by green fields, but it’s never too early to start thinking about the 2016 growing season and selecting next year’s seeds. You’ve probably already received numerous seed catalogs or been browsing varieties online. Narrowing down hundreds of available varieties to just a handful can be a daunting task. Here are four things to look for to help you get started:
1. Know what works for your farm
Your farm is unique, and nobody knows it better than you. Your fields have specific soil types, fertility levels, pest susceptibility and crop histories. You know which varieties you’ve used in the past that have worked well and which didn’t. Keep these factors in mind when making seed decisions.
Kyle Bridgeforth, a farmer from Tanner, Alabama, keeps yield records of every variety he plants.
“We largely base our decisions on our personal records of yield performance and the local experiment station’s yield report,” says Bridgeforth. “Yield history and yield potential are some of the most influential factors we look at.”
Quint Pottinger, who farms in New Haven, Kentucky, takes a different approach with his variety research by working with his seed dealers to plant test plots.
“It’s a hassle,” says Pottinger. “A plot we put in this year, 12 varieties in one plot, took six hours to plant. But, I’m going to have good data for the varieties I choose to put in next year or the year after that, because we took the time to plant a test plot.”
2. Keep a backup plan in your back pocket
Weather delays can throw a wrench into your plan without warning, as much of the Midwest realized during this year’s wet spring. That influenced which crops many farmers chose to plant this season. It could also impact the quantities of seed available for next spring. Even though you will be placing orders for your preferred varieties over the next few months, have a list of varieties that work well on your farm (but might not be your No. 1 choice) in the back of your mind in case of an unforeseen event.
3. Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket
Sometimes varieties that are advertised as high yielders don’t live up to their name. It happens. It may have been weather; it may have been a disease that was present on your farm that the variety was unusually susceptible to; it may have just been a fluke. Save yourself the pain of what could be an expensive mistake by selecting more than one variety for each crop on your farm.
4. Have a crop plan
“It’s important for farmers to develop a crop plan,” says Pottinger. “Our crop plan isn’t a year-to-year thing; it’s something that we’ve mapped out for the next five years. This year’s crop is made; you’ve got to be thinking about next year’s crop and even the crops that are coming in behind it in the next two or three years.”
Having a crop plan will keep you thinking about the future: How will this disease or insect impact my next crop? Which inputs will I use to treat it? Will my plan change if prices drop lower or suddenly jump to record highs?
“The economics will affect our seeding decisions, as they always do,” says Bridgeforth.
The bottom line
- Factor in your soil type, soil fertility and ongoing pest issues when selecting varieties.
- Select a variety capable of performing across a range of environmental conditions, such as excessively dry or excessively wet weather.
- Spread your risk by selecting more than one variety from more than one brand.
- Yield potential is attractive, but consider the historical performance of the variety on your farm and in your area. Don’t sacrifice built-in resistance for a few extra bushels.