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Understanding seeds as key in improving farmers yields

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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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