FarmBiz Africa

Studying seeds pivotal for serious farmers


Just like any other busi­ness’ suc­cess which de­pends on how well one in­vests, seeds are one of the major in­vest­ments that a farmer has to make to­wards achiev­ing bet­ter yields and profits.

There are three seed types; hy­brid seeds, open-pol­lin­ated vari­ety, and ge­net­ic­ally mod­i­fied seeds. You must have heard about F1 hy­brid seeds.  The noise about F1 is that it is a hy­brid seed. F1 stands for Fi­lial 1. This is a seed that is de­veloped by cross­ing two par­ent plants with dif­fer­ent de­sir­able traits. The off­spring “F1” will have those su­per­ior qual­it­ies passed down from the par­ents.

Con­sequently, hy­brid seeds have the traits of being early matur­ing, dis­ease res­ist­ant, strong and vig­or­ous growth, uni­form­ity, bet­ter qual­ity of fruit in­clud­ing ex­ten­ded shelf life. Fur­ther­more, the ul­ti­mate ad­vant­age of these seeds is that they are very high yield­ing.

For ex­ample, the av­er­age yield per acre for an open-pol­lin­ated vari­ety of to­mato like the Rio Grande is about 15-20 tons per acre. However, for a hy­brid seed, the av­er­age yield per acre is more than 50 tons per acre. Some vari­et­ies yield as high as 180 tons per acre. There­fore, a farmer seek­ing to max­im­ize profit should favor these vari­et­ies.

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It is im­port­ant to note that the pro­duc­tion of hy­brid seeds is very com­plic­ated, labor-in­tens­ive, time-con­sum­ing and costly. Un­for­tu­nately, this makes hy­brid seeds ex­pens­ive. The other dis­ad­vant­age is that they have to be pro­duced every sea­son. Plant­ing using seeds from F1 off­spring will yield an F2 hy­brid. The res­ult­ing plant may or may not have qual­it­ies of the par­ents of the F1. Most F2 plants are less stable and have in­ferior traits. Hence, they are not de­sir­able to re­plant.

An­other chal­lenge with hy­brid seeds is that they need extra help to grow. As a farmer, you have to be on point in your ag­ro­nomic man­age­ment in terms of crop man­age­ment (plant­ing, wa­ter­ing, and weed­ing) and pest and dis­ease con­trol. This is un­like open-pol­lin­ated vari­et­ies that are hardy and res­ist­ant to many dis­eases. Hence, as a farmer, you have to be di­li­gent in your crop man­age­ment.

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How to choose hy­brid seeds

So, how do you choose which vari­ety to plant? Firstly, the mar­ket has vari­ous com­pan­ies selling hy­brid seeds. There­fore, the farmer is spoilt for choice. The seed to be planted will de­pend on factors such as the tar­get mar­ket (fresh, pro­cessing or ex­port), en­vir­on­mental con­di­tions (hot, warm, humid), price, res­ist­ance to pests and dis­eases and ex­pec­ted av­er­age yield.

Let’s take a case in point if you want to plant to­ma­toes in open field, and are tar­get­ing the local mar­ket. First, the local mar­ket de­mands for oval fruits. Secondly, they need to be me­dium size, firm and have an ex­ten­ded shelf life. Hence, the char­ac­ter­ist­ics you look for will be as afore­men­tioned. The seed will then have to be a de­term­in­ate vari­ety, with oval fruits, good fruit firm­ness, mar­ket­able fruit size, ex­ten­ded shelf life, high yield­ing and high fruit uni­form­ity.

For dis­ease and pest res­ist­ance, you will look for a vari­ety that is res­ist­ant to to­mato yel­low leaf curl virus, ver­ti­cil­lium wilt, fusarium wilt (race 1,2), nem­at­odes, to­bacco mo­saic virus, bac­terial speck and field res­ist­ant to powdery mil­dew. On the other hand, if you are grow­ing using green­house, the vari­ety should be in­de­term­in­ate and suit­able for long crop pro­duc­tion.

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Open Pol­lin­ated Vari­et­ies

These are plants that pol­lin­ate each other. Bees and the wind are the main pol­lin­at­ors. Open pol­lin­ated vari­et­ies (OPV) are cheaper than hy­brid seeds. These seeds provide an eco­nom­ical op­tion to farm­ers with lim­ited re­sources. The money saved by buy­ing OPV seeds can be used to pur­chase ad­di­tional in­puts like fer­til­izer, chem­ic­als and hire ad­di­tional labor. The main dis­ad­vant­age of these seeds is that they are not as high yield­ing. However, with good ag­ro­nomic prac­tice, they can be prof­it­able.

Fi­nally whether to plant the hy­brid seeds or the open pol­lin­ated vari­ety will de­pend on the avail­able budget and tar­get mar­ket. Im­port­antly, there is no pres­sure to al­ways plant hy­brid seeds though they have been mar­keted ag­gress­ively to the farmer. Start with what you have and grow from there.

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