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Winter isn’t coming, it’s arrived. And the arrival of winter usually marks the beginning of one of the biggest decisions of the year: hybrid purchases. Most crops have been harvested, equipment is cleaned up and in the shed, and seed salespeople are out and about trying to gather end-of-the-year orders.

“Purchasing seed for silage and feed is one of the most important decisions of the year, with consequences felt all year long,” explains Mark Kirk, Rock River Laboratory business development and customer relations manager.

For this reason, preparation and having a plan ready before the investment is looking you in the eye can be the key to a successful forthcoming year.  

First, know your yield and quality goals.

“Starting with the endpoint is essential to getting the right seed from the right company,” suggests Kirk. “Be ready to explain to a seed representative exactly what those goals are. Put yourself in the driver’s seat, take the lead in the conversation, and make them meet your expectations and goals.”

There are several questions seed representatives should be able to answer to assist in the decision.

If growing corn for silage, one of the first questions to ask is: Was this variety bred or selected for silage quality from the beginning, or is this a grain variety that looks like a silage type hybrid?

“Many seed companies exist, but very few are specializing in developing high-quality corn silage-specific hybrids,” says Kirk. “Unfortunately, most seed companies breed and develop hybrids for corn yield and agronomics only. Then out of those hybrids, they may or may not test for silage quality.”

Such situations do not mean, however, that these varieties offer low nutritional quality.

This fact leads to the next question to ask a seed salesperson regarding the hybrid of interest: What are the best nutritional qualities of this variety? This question often helps weed out those varieties that just “look like” good silage hybrids.

“Just because a corn hybrid is tall and has high ear placement doesn’t make it a good silage hybrid,” states Kirk. “It might have good silage yields but not the best nutritional values.”

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This same adage should be applied to varieties with high starch. If the salesperson leads the answer with high-yield and high-starch, this could mean it is a grain variety that is sold as a silage hybrid.

In these situations, Kirk recommends, “Answer the question of quality by talking about fiber digestibility, starch digestibility, and milk-making potential; not just yield and looks.”

One of the final questions to discuss with a seed representative regarding hybrid options is: what data supports this hybrid?

“The old adage is talk is cheap, so seeing the data important,” says Kirk. “Make sure it is year over year data and not just one year’s results.”

Even a less-than-ideal hybrid can have one good year. See how the variety compares to the other hybrids raised in the plot or location. Kirk recommends further investigation by reviewing how this hybrid ranks within the plot, not just at the values of the quality.

Price shouldn’t be the only decision-maker or motivation to pursue a specific hybrid. Comparing expensive seed to cheap seed, the cost is minimal in the grand scheme of the animal diet. 

“Cheap seed can also cost you more in the end,” explains Kirk. “Work with experienced seed advisors and a nutritionist to evaluate the cost based upon the digestible tons per acre as well as the cost per digestible ton, with the information at hand.”

From a long-term perspective, it’s worthwhile to ask yourself the question: Is your seed salesperson just an order taker or are they a service provider?

“The person who just shows up once or twice a year to take your seed order and maybe deliver seed to you is most likely only interested in the sale and not your success,” explains Kirk. “There is a difference between a ‘seedsperson’ and a ‘salesperson’.”

Purchasing seed is a significant investment, so it’s important to make sure the service provider is available to answer questions throughout the growing season and can be there to help with any issues that might arise.

While the decision is ultimately the buyer’s, don’t be afraid to bring all of the stakeholders into the hybrid selection meeting.

Kirk advises, “Adding your nutritionist, agronomist, herdsman, and even the bookkeeper to this important meeting can help to bring in new perspectives and questions previously not considered.”

The yearly hybrid purchase is a key element of a successful year and should be looked at as a business decision that will impact the future of every operation.

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