Kissin' corn cousins?
Several years ago, Wayne Siela, Vinton, Iowa, was harvesting corn. He knew two hybrids out of the package he planted that year shared the same 108-day relative maturity. Yet, he was struck by other similarities throughout the year.
"They were the same height," he says. "They grew the same, tasseled and pollinated at the same time, and yielded the same." The only difference seemed to be that the hybrids came from two different companies.
Growing concentration of germplasm sources by seed companies raises the question of similar genetics stretching across hybrids and varieties from different companies.
"It appears there are more companies getting germplasm from a common source," says Dean Oestreich, chairman of Pioneer Hi-Bred International.
The potential of having kissin' cousins in the corn hybrids you select complicates the time-tested strategy of planting several different corn hybrids across a farm.
"Farmers plant a number of varieties in many cases to protect against specific environmental conditions that would place them at a disadvantage if they planted just one," says Oestreich. "It's like a portfolio. They want to have it perform under a number of different conditions."
Just because genetics are similar doesn't mean growth patterns and yield will be similar between hybrids. Processing and grading can create field performance differences, even with similar genetics.
Yet, there's always the lingering feelings farmers have regarding similar genetics between hybrids. "Farmers I meet will tell me, 'I bought hybrid A and hybrid B, and they looked very much the same,'" says Oestreich.
That's particularly disconcerting if the parent of a hybrid unknowingly has susceptibility to a pest or disease, says Dean Mohr, a Pioneer attorney.
"An individual may buy three hybrids from three different companies thinking they are different," he says. "If an inbred has this susceptibility to disease and is used in all three hybrids, the farmer can get hit in all three cases."
There's another issue at work here. Sometimes, seed brokers sell a company's developed variety to another company that sells the variety under a different brand name. This is legal under the Federal Seed Act (FSA) and under seed laws that some states have.
However, farmers are protected by an FSA provision stating the original variety must be stated on the seed tag or label.
Thus, two companies could label the variety brand names of AAA and BBB. If the variety code is 1111, though, the seed label or tag would have to state it in both cases.
"Presently, I believe most everyone would agree that FSA regulations allow a company to sell a product under a brand name," says Mohr. "It also requires a company to identify the variety on the seed label. There needs to be a distinction between the brand name and the variety."
Remember that 1970s ad jingle, "Look for the Union Label?"
Well, nix the union part and you'll find good advice for today. Look for the seed variety on the label or tag of each hybrid you plant. There are some states where the label will state 'Variety Not Stated.' That's legal. However, there are many cases where the label will state the actual variety.