The number of new hybrids this year alone in the U.S. is staggering. Yet the old rule of thumb is not to plant a hybrid until you've either seen it in your own plot, seeds date from university trials and seen it growing somewhere, or have seen it plus have reliable plot information from multiple plots that were grown under a maximum number of locations and environments.
So how do you get familiar with these new hybrids without getting burnt by planting a lot of the one that happens to turn out to be a dog? Dave Nanda, a consultant and director of Technology and Genetics for Seed Consultants, Inc., Washington Courthouse, Ohio, says there is another option. If you want to get a look at the latest and greatest a company has on your own farm, then ask for a sample bag of that hybrid. Companies often prepare sample bags, particularly for entry into university test trials.
"It might not be enough to plant strips that you can harvest," he says. "But you can at least get a look at the hybrids growing during the summer. Look at things like vigor, emergence, and then later observe susceptibility to disease, type of anther, how well the plant pollinates, ear height and so forth. You can keep notes on your own from what you see on your farm.
Don't' worry if you can't get enough seed to plant a big enough area to take this hybrid to harvest. For that information, rely on independent tests, such as the Purdue University replicated yield trials.
You can even develop your own rating sequence during the season, Nanda says. Set a rating scale. Suppose 1 represents very good and 10 very poor. At any time you can observe the various new hybrids you're looking at, and make observations as to how they look in different aspects. You may have early-season observations, mid-season checks and then a late season observation just before harvest.
Nanda keeps very detailed notes. He's trained himself to do that over 40 years as a plant breeder. You may not need notes as detailed as his, but you should have enough to indicate that you do or don't like the hybrid. The ones you like you can move into your own large-scale test plot for the next year.