How to Choose the Right Variety or Hybrid?
Today, in the commercial production of vegetables, the use of free pollination varieties lowers. They are grown in the manufacture of products with a protected geographical origin or in the production of products traditional for a given region. The ideologists of organic farming popularize varieties, but organic producers themselves very often prefer hybrids. Often, producers choose varieties only because their seeds are cheaper than the seeds of first-generation hybrids (F1, H1). Hybrids are popular not because they are “actively imposed by international corporations”, as journalists like to assure, but because they provide the producer with a higher and better yield and higher profits.
The supply of hybrid seeds on the market is very large and is updated annually with new products. Despite the fact that some hybrids remain popular for 20-30 years, the average age of hybrids is short-lived. For example, the age of greenhouse tomatoes and cucumbers is about 5-6 years, for open-field vegetables – 6-10 years. However, some very promising hybrids are quickly disappearing from the market due to problems with seed production. As a result, the vegetable producer is constantly faced with the need to choose the variety or hybrid that is most suitable for a specific farm. Often the choice is made on the basis of three criteria: “tasty”, “it grows a neighbor” and “cheap seeds”. This is not to say that these are incorrect criteria, but they are not primary.
Time has gone when vegetables were grown for own consumption, and the only surplus was brought to the market. In modern times, commercial cultivation involves the production of vegetables for sale, so it is very important to know the preferences and needs of your final consumer. As you may guess, the end consumer is very interested in the taste and appearance of our products.
Taste is a very individual matter. When trading in the retail or wholesale market, the manufacturer is directly confronted with consumer preferences, but as it comes to working with networks or exports, the situation changes. For example, in China, consumers prefer very sweet strawberries, but supermarkets require semi-green, as denser berries better tolerate transportation and less deteriorate during the sale process.
Offering products for export, an inexperienced manufacturer most often does not know how they will be met and appreciated by end consumers. It is assumed that the exporter should know this, but so far this is not always the case. As a result, very tasty but gigantic watermelons from Ukraine and melons from Uzbekistan get to the Latvian market where sellers have to cut them even into 4 parts to be bought. Recently, even special guillotine slicing machines have been created, but not every watermelon or melon is placed in them.
The taste of many fruit and vegetable products is affected by storage and transportation conditions. For example, tomatoes irrevocably lose their taste when stored at temperatures below 12 ° C, even within 20-30 minutes, and most often this happens when goods are unloaded at the ramp of the supermarket. Therefore, when choosing a “tasty hybrid”, it is important to evaluate not the manufacturer and not the greenhouse or field, but the consumer’s opinion at the end of the chain. That is why the taste of products should be evaluated in the store, but the manufacturer is almost not able to do it.
The buyer of our products is either a supermarket chain, a wholesaler, or an exporter, or a processing plant with its own requirements. They are also interested in the opinion of the consumer, but such things as transportability, keeping quality, and the time period for selling products are no less important. For example, solid onion hybrids with strong external scales are more transportable than hybrids with a low dry matter content and easily lagging scales. Parthenocarpic hybrids of cucumber have a longer implementation period than bee pollinators, which quickly turn yellow and fade.
The shelf life of products in optimal conditions, depending on the length of the biological dormancy period is more of an interest to resellers who hope to buy products during mass cleaning at the lowest price and sell them after a few months. Actual keeping quality also depends on the degree of physiological maturity of the product at the time of harvesting and the degree of damage by pests and infections, therefore it is better for traders to keep the products as long as possible at the manufacturers. The buyer is also interested in the size of the package, while often supermarkets require the delivery of products in bags, bags, or boxes of a certain size and capacity. For example, in Latvia several years ago there was a problem with pumpkins. The network required boxes of no more than 25 kg, and the mass of individual fruits exceeded 30 kg, and in terms of size, they simply did not fit in a box. Now large fruits are sold for processing, and small-fruited varieties are grown for nets.
On the part of exporters and supermarkets, there may be requirements for a certain caliber of the product, especially for onions and garlic. In recent years, the problem of pesticide residues in products has become very acute. A number of networks in some countries of Western Europe put forward their own MPCs, which are lower than officially established, common for the entire EU. The choice of hybrids that are genetically resistant or at least tolerant to diseases and pests becomes an urgent need.
Suitability of a variety or hybrid for growing under specific conditions
- Suitability for growing in certain climatic conditions, including air temperature, light exposure and daylight hours, rainfall, and the presence of irrigation water and its quality affects the growth, development, and vitality of plants.
- Suitability for cultivation in this particular soil or substrate (in greenhouses).
- When growing in modern greenhouses, the suitability of the hybrid for a specific growing period or for light culture is also important.
- Product quality: shape, size, and color of the product, attractive appearance. In different cultures, these indicators vary greatly. In addition, uniformity of production is important, and this is one of the main advantages of hybrids. Besides, you can sell large and small products, and red and green (tomatoes or peppers), but it is important for the manufacturer that the sorting of products is easy and quick and at least 80% of the products are uniform in terms of basic indicators. The uniformity is influenced by the growing conditions, which should also not be forgotten.
- Convenience in growing and labor costs. For example, in a greenhouse, indeterminate tomatoes are easier to form than determinant ones. On the contrary, in open ground, determinant tomatoes are easier to grow, and no garter and formation are required. Parthenocarpic hybrids of cucumber do not require bees, which immediately reduces the cost of growing and increases productivity and product quality. Broccoli hybrids that do not form side shoots allow harvesting in 2-3 passes and quickly free up the field for growing another crop or siderat. Manual harvesting of cabbage with a mass of heads of 3-4 kg is much faster than heads of 1-2 kg or more than 8 kg.
- Resistance to pests and diseases, as well as physiological damage. Today there are many hybrids and varieties of many vegetable crops that are genetically resistant to major pests and diseases. Even radish, lettuce, and spinach have such varieties, but tomato hybrids have the broadest spectrum of resistance. When choosing a hybrid, it is important that it is not only resistant/tolerant to diseases, but to those infections that are relevant in the place of cultivation. In hot areas, it is important that leafy vegetables, tomatoes, and peppers are resistant to marginal burns of leaves and apical rot. The cultivation of resistant hybrids and varieties not only reduces the need for the use of chemical plant protection products, it greatly simplifies the organization of work on the farm. There are fewer problems with meeting the waiting period (the number of days between processing and the day of safe harvesting), and you do not have to wait for the weather suitable for spraying. Less treatment means less stress for the plants, resulting in higher yields.
- The potential yield of a variety or hybrid. Subject to proper agricultural practices, the yield of hybrids is always higher than that of varieties, especially old ones. There is a need to note that currently, no breeding company produces any barren or low-yielding hybrids, so the final result usually depends not so much on the hybrid as on the growing conditions. Of course, the yield of cherry tomatoes will be lower than that of large-fruited hybrids, but within one group the potential yield of all hybrids is almost the same.
- Suitability of the variety/hybrid for organic cultivation and the availability of its organically grown seeds. Of course, this is more important for organic producers, but for everyone else, the fact that hybrid seeds can be obtained by organic cultivation indicates a very high reliability of the hybrid. This is especially true for low-tech farms, which are not so few today.
- Price of seeds. This is an important point, but in the list of criteria, indeed, the last. Of course, a lot depends on the financial condition of the economy and not everyone can afford to buy tomato seeds at a price of euros per seed, even if it is the most delicious tomato in the world. But if you know exactly what you want from a hybrid or variety, you can always find several comparable offers and choose the least expensive seeds. Do not forget that nothing is as expensive as buying cheap seeds.
And finally, the choice for the reason “this variety is grown by everyone.” If all the neighbors grow it for export to a specific market, then their experience should be taken very seriously. If all the neighbors compete on the same market, then it may be more profitable to choose a variety or hybrid that stands out from the total mass with the product quality or ease of cultivation.