Imagine the day you can provide details about each specific field to your seed supplier and they take that information to custom-build the perfect hybrid or variety for each field. Sounds crazy, right? In reality, many seed companies can already do this.
You’ve heard about genetics by environment – matching hybrid and variety genetic strengths to each field’s or zone’s unique challenges. Now, seed companies have shifted their genetic breeding techniques to not just aim for high-yielding hybrids, but to create genetically defensive hybrids to match real-world environments.
“How do you combine seeds, traits, chemistry and digital solutions to improve the whole-farm experience?” asks Laura Grapes, Bayer head of product systems for North America breeding. “It means we think differently about genetic improvement, because it’s not the seed alone but with all other factors that influence improvement. This has changed the way we do work and do research and the way we think about comprehensive tailored solutions — where genetics is just one part.”
Seed is just one piece of the production puzzle. Each year presents different challenges, such as nematodes, a history of diseases or a troubling weed seed bank. Add in numerous options for seed treatments, herbicides, fungicides, insecticides and biologicals coupled with varying tillage methods and soil types and the decisions mount. Seed decisions aren’t linear — it requires a system approach.
Match Seed to Soil and Tillage Types
When your soil conditions don’t match plot data, it can be difficult to figure out what hybrid or variety will actually work on your farm.
“We don’t evaluate products on every single soil type and situation, so in tough or abnormal environments, farmers should identify hybrids that have worked in the past,” says Brent Tharp, Wyffels agronomy and product training manager. “It’s important to test in some sort of fashion, whether it’s a split planter, a plot or a block of a new hybrid. Always evaluate.”
Use plot data from several areas to find the most adaptive and stress-tolerant seeds.
“I would also err on the side of being aggressive,” says Erich Eller, owner of ForeFront Ag Solutions in Indiana. “If you don’t know exactly how to fit the seed to the soil and seed catalogs say plant it 26,000 to 34,000 on corn, I’ll err on the 34,000 side. I know Mother Nature is going to take some of those out.”
Think about what stressors exist based on your soil types. In addition, consider what your tillage methods mean for seed conditions and early season growth. For instance, hybrids and varieties with good cold ratings and early season vigor are handy for no-till.
Use The Goldilocks Approach To Fertilizer
Nutrients in your soil or applied through foliar application obviously have a direct impact on the success of your crop. Sometimes hybrids respond differently to the same application timing or method.
“Hybrids, offensive versus defensive, respond differently to nutrition,” says Jim Schwartz, Beck’s Hybrids Practical Farm Research director. “Believe it or not, the time of day we apply nutrition matters. For example, after three years of testing, we found offensive hybrids respond better to foliar nutrition in the morning.”
Talk through how and when you apply nutrients with your seed adviser. They should be able to help you determine what hybrids will perform best.
Fertility and hybrid type also affect populations. “If we have better soils or more fertility in fields that are really productive, and it’s a ‘fixed’ hybrid, we might push populations a little,” says Dana Harder, Burrus Seed field agronomist. “We might back off populations in tougher environments to preserve agronomic and stalk integrity.”
Some seed companies collect hybrid- and variety-specific fertility information. With this data, you can better understand which hybrids can use extra nitrogen to pack on bushels or which application timing works best.
Compensate For Weakness With Seed Treatments
Consider seed treatment upgrades in corn and if you need treatment in soybeans.
“With soybeans, look at the seedling diseases in your fields and consider your variety selection,” says Kevin Cavanaugh, an agronomist and former Beck's Hybrids director of research. “Any product fact sheet you see will list tolerance ratings for diseases and sometimes the specific genes that confer that tolerance.”
From there, Cavanaugh says, use what you know about the field to place varieties. But, if a variety without tolerance to phytophthora, for example, is the best fit overall for your field, you can use a seed treatment to make up for that weakness. Alternately, genetic tolerance to phytophthora can save seed treatment dollars, too.
“In soybeans I like to use a seed treatment, but it’s a personal choice whether you’ll get benefit out of an insecticide seed treatment addition,” says Todd Schomburg, Stine Seed director of agronomy. “A seed treatment on soybeans is like insurance protecting yield. Use seed treatments knowing the weather can change quickly.”
Know nematode pressure in fields. With high pressure and no tolerance in genetics, consider a biological or synthetic seed treatment.
Assess and Manage Disease Threats
In today’s environment of tighter margins, use your seed choice to leverage your in-season fungicide decisions.
“Usually varieties developed by the breeder are focused on really good genetics that bring yield and agronomic performance,” says Geeta Menon, BASF U.S. soybean breeding lead. “As an example, it can have disease resistance through a package of disease traits. Work with an agronomist to understand how to best use the variety.”
Armed with the knowledge of your hybrid or variety selection, and a few more pieces of the environmental puzzle, you can make the smart decision on fungicides. For instance:
- If you have a variety with a weaker tolerance score or a field with a history of high disease pressure, you can plan ahead for a fungicide application.
- A proactive fungicide plan could mean you lock in early-order discounts.
“In an ideal world, you should take disease notes in your combine this fall,” says Lynn Justesen, UPL technical services lead, row crop. “When you’re making the seed decision you need to know what diseases are a concern.”
Know Your Weed Target
In northeast Indiana, the first thing on John Anson’s mind when buying soybean seed is what herbicide partner can be used with it. With resistant weeds on the rise, it’s one of the most critical decisions he makes all year.
“We look to see which trait will go after the weeds we’re targeting,” Anson says.
While herbicide tolerance is technically a trait, not necessarily a genetic option, it should still be carefully considered when selecting seed. That single choice can pigeonhole your weed control options for the season.
“Remember, genetics make yield, so let’s first make sure we’re selecting the best genetics for the highest yields — the traits just protect yield,” Eller says.
Talk with agronomists in your area to identify any potential herbicide-resistant weeds. While there are many seed trait herbicide options in corn and soybeans, all systems have certain resistances in select areas.
Also consider your equipment options. For example:
- If your trait package insists you use a herbicide with a strict application deadline or temperature/moisture requirements, do you have a sprayer and necessary certifications to apply herbicides?
- Do you have a relationship with a custom sprayer who will make sure the job gets done?
Known Resistances in Herbicide Partners
With several soybean herbicide trait options, it’s important to understand what resistances already exist in new systems. While each of these herbicide groups have confirmed resistance to the following weeds, note that it might not be resistant in your state yet. Work with local agronomists to understand the efficacy of these products.
Group 9, ESPS Inhibitors (Glyphosate)
- Palmer Amaranth
- Spiny Amaranth
- Tall Waterhemp
- Giant Ragweed
- Hairy Fleabane
- Italian Ryegrass
- Rigid Ryegrass
- Annual Bluegrass
Group 10, Glutamine Synthase Inhibitors (Glufosinate)
- Italian Ryegrass
Group 4, Synthetic Auxins (Dicamba, 2,4-D)
- Palmer Amaranth
- Tall Waterhemp
- Yellow Starthistle
- Wild Carrot
- Prickly Lettuce
Group 27, HPPD inhibitors
- Palmer Amaranth
- Tall Waterhemp
Genetics Development At The Core
The basis of yield starts with genetics. Scientists use advanced systems to improve genetics rapidly and target specific defenses for the changing agricultural landscape.
"Our product development pipeline is heavily based on leveraging all relevant data using the power of advanced analytics and decision sciences to solve the key production challenges,” says Trevor Hohls, Syngenta head of global seeds product development. Previously, plant breeding has been more of a descriptive approach. With data, researchers are moving toward predictive and next will be prescriptive approaches.
You’ve undoubtedly heard of gene editing technology — but what is it really? With advanced data collection, plant breeders can pick what specific genes they want to see expressed in crops, and they can quickly determine if the trait is
meeting the desired outcome.
Prescriptive breeding has the potential to improve yields. Through this process, researchers fit genetics to each field using environment and weather data.
“We can run crop-growing models out for farmers and based on our understanding of the right germplasm, long-term weather forecasts and farm management practices, recommend a package of hybrids,” says Geoff Graham, Corteva Agriscience global breeding lead. “It starts with the right experiments in the field and measuring germplasm and environment to get large-scale data so we can position those hybrids.”