Tips For Choosing Your Hybrids
By John Swanson*
1. Which market is the best for your farm? Whether confection, oil, birdseed or specialty oil, it is necessary to consider which market is the most likely or works best for your market or your growing region. High oleic now can be used for NuSun, but NuSun hybrids will not make high-oleic oil. Most confection companies have hybrids they prefer for their particular markets.
2. Yield is next most important, but there are other factors to consider. For oil-type hybrids, oil per acre is more important than just yield. This is the oil percentage times yield, and it is really the basis for payment. In these days of higher-priced sunflower, high-oil hybrids really do give you a very good advantage, as you can often get the total cost of seed back in your oil premium.
At 2,000 lbs/ac and 48% oil, with $28/cwt sunflower the oil premium is $89.60 per acre. This would cover all your seed and weed control costs. At 1,500 lbs, 45% oil and again a $28/cwt market price, the premium is $42 per acre — way more than most hybrids’ seed cost. If you are growing hybrids with low oil percentage, it will cost you — unless you have a very large increase in yield.
3. Look at yields from several trials from several locales when evaluating a hybrid’s stability. I can always find at least one trial where even a poor hybrid will do well. It is hard to make a good hybrid look bad if you look at numerous trials. Moisture and weather patterns differ each year, so looking at data from other areas helps gauge stability. I know sunflower breeders who, to be sure of a hybrid’s stability, prefer to compare sunflower data from several different continents before releasing a hybrid. Sunflower is much more “movable” from one area to another compared to corn or soybeans.
It is also necessary to look at LSD (least significant difference) when reviewing trial data. Sometimes there is no significant yield difference in the whole trial — even if there are several hundred pounds differences in yield among hybrids — because the LSD number is greater than those yield differences.
4. Risk Aversion — Here, I consider factors like disease resistance, stalk quality, maturity, shatter tolerance, etc.
The diseases you have had in the past should dictate which one are most important for your farm. If you do not have to give up yield or oil, the more tolerant the hybrid, the less chance you will have problems.
For downy mildew, hybrids with the PL15 gene have resistance to all races. Some with the older genes (PL6 and PL8) resistant only to the older strains of downy mildew.
Sclerotinia tolerance can be for either stalk or head. At present, there are no totally Sclerotinia-resistant hybrids on the market. Breeding for this disease is very complicated, as there are several genes and modifiers that control it. There are improvements coming, thanks in a large way to the USDA/NSA Sclerotinia screening project. You can now choose hybrids with more tolerance to both head and stalk rot forms of Sclerotinia.
Downy mildew resistance and rust resistance are available in many current hybrids. Phomopsis tolerance is also a good idea.
5. “Maturity” is not rated consistently among companies. It is usually possible to look at most companies’ hybrids and see which are earlier or later. Several companies use days from emergence to physiological maturity, which is 35 % moisture. Maturities will vary, depending on where a hybrid is being grown and what the growing season weather is like.
6. Confection hybrids have all the challenges of oils — except that of oil percentage. In addition, confections need to have the color, size and shape desired by the processor, along with a hull-to-nutmeat ratio that translates into test weight.
7. Herbicide Tolerance — I really believe the better the weed control, the higher the yield potential. SU- and IMI-tolerant hybrids give the producer better options for controlling weeds. It is my belief that within a few years, most — if not all — sunflower hybrids will have one of these options or some other weed control option.
8. The overall performance of the hybrid will, in the long run, net you more money than choosing the lowest-cost seed option.
* John Swanson recently retired as sunflower product manager for Croplan Genetics. A 40-year veteran of the sunflower industry, he has been a sunflower producer near Mentor, Minn., for a similar length of time. He also serves on the National Sunflower Association Board of Directors.
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