ReachOut: The Art and Science of Hybrid Selection

ReachOut: The Art and Science of Hybrid Selection from United Farmers Cooperative on Vimeo.

By Mike Zwingman

By Mike Zwingman

It’s July 26th, and I’ll bet my dog that you’ve got some opinions about your hybrids this year.   Maybe they’re doing great.  Or they make you cry like a baby.  Or you can only think to shrug your shoulders apathetically when you talk about them.  However they make you feel, I’ll bet my property that you’re waiting to see the winners in local plot data before you choose your hybrids for next season.

But as today’s hybrids advance more rapidly—which consequently gives them shorter shelf lives—we need to change the way that we consider them and select them for our next growing season.  Selecting the best hybrid isn’t as easy as looking for the chart topper among local data.  It is rather an art and a science, based on fit and trends, more than how the hybrid performed in a limited number of plots.

And if that sounds a little burdensome to you, you should be happy to hear that your United Farmers Cooperative works all season long to perfect this art and science to better help you select, place, and manage any and all the hybrids you may plant.


I’ve mentioned before that the typical grower gets about 40 seasons to try to perfect his or her operation.  That’s not a lot, especially considering the complexity of our practice.  Each decision that we make must be carefully considered.  So as you’re considering making this year’s winner your next choice of hybrid, consider this: In the 35 years I’ve graced this earth, only four times has a baseball player won back to back batting titles.  And that includes Wade Boggs doing it four years in a row.  In 35 years, only four times has the winner of one season repeated as the winner the next season.  Because each season is different from the last, great success is difficult to replicate.

Using this year’s winner as part of a balanced seed portfolio next season is probably a great idea.  When Wade Boggs wins the batting title, you don’t trade him.  Using it as the single criteria on which to hang the success of one of your precious 40 seasons though?  That’s betting the farm on a performance that history doesn’t support.

While no one can know what next season will bring, using data to help you make your hybrid selection will best support your success next season.  The Answer Plot and Gen 5 Trials from UFC seed partners provide us loads of replicated data about how hybrids grow in different soil types and cropping conditions.  This data helps us understand where a hybrid best fits, what plant population supports its maximum yield, and how it responds to irrigation and applications of Nitrogen and fungicide.

Header1This is the science.  Data gives us the picture of a hybrid on paper.  But, of course, we don’t farm on paper.  So we take the data into the field: we put the pencil down and grab other tools, like pocket knives and shovels; we trade the clean workspaces and computer screens for the sweat and dirt of a cornfield.

This is the art of hybrid selection.  How the data plays out in the dirt.   When you use UFC data to assist you with hybrid selection (including hybrids from our partnered brands and other companies as well), that data will always be supplemented with observations and evaluations of the hybrid’s performance at emergence, at tassel, during grain fill, and prior to harvest.  We dig up plants to evaluate their root morphology and how it suits local conditions.  We observe hybrids in action with the same keen eye of a judge at a livestock show and pass those observations and opinions on to you.

We do this to support you and assist you as you manage one of the largest input investments you make in your entire operation.  Because your choice of hybrid will drive every management decision you make throughout the rest of the year.  Because a sound and thoughtful selection is key to your success in the next of your 40 seasons.

And because Buster Posey isn’t looking like he’ll repeat his 2012 MLB-high .336 batting average this year.