The “off season” is officially here and we now look to the growing season in 2021. The transition from one growing season to the next is often formally rung in by the arrival of seed catalogs, and if you are like me, that means a fairly large pile of them! These are fun to flip through and often have great pictures of the varieties that each respective company is showcasing, but there is a lot more to pay attention too while perusing these catalogs. For this article, I will primarily be focusing on seed and variety selection for vegetable producers, however, many of these points apply to agronomic farmers as well.
When you are deciding on what varieties you want to plant next year, consider the factors that you are basing decisions off of. Is it the yield potential? Is the variety ideal for our area? Does the picture catch your eye? While all these components are important considerations, there are others that are just as, if not more important. Digging deeper into the qualities of certain varieties, you will find that many catalogs now list traits such as disease resistance. Other features such as “crack resistance” or “heat tolerance” or even “greenhouse/high tunnel performance” can be found as well. These “technical” traits, if you will, can sometimes be a lot to dig through and break down to completely understand. However, knowing what traits you are getting in a variety can make a huge difference during the growing season next year.
Looking at variety selection from an integrated pest management point of view, there are a few things to consider. The most important point here is to know what problems you have dealt with in the past. Being able to correctly diagnose disease or insect challenges will help you pick the correct varieties with the appropriate disease and insect resistance or tolerance traits. Being aware of what pest challenges you have faced, as well as what insects and diseases are common in our area will help you make educated, and impactful decisions when selecting varieties. Selecting varieties that are susceptible to diseases is sometimes the only decision that can be made; however, this does put you a step behind when looking at disease management. Knowing full well that the likelihood of facing certain diseases is inevitable, finding varieties with resistance is a great resource in your “IPM toolbox”. A disease or insect resistant plant puts you a step ahead of the disease or insect and could cut back on the amount of pesticides needed for said crop.
Obviously, appearance and eye appeal to the consumer increases the marketability of vegetable crops, however, without some of these more technical traits, the cosmetic quality of the produce can drop significantly. One big trait that comes to mind is tomatoes and cracking. I personally know, as I am sure you do too, that after watching tomatoes grow and ripen, sometimes you go to harvest them only to find them cracked and in no condition to be packed or sold. Talk about frustrating! If this is a challenge that you face, look for varieties that have “crack resistance” or the ability to with stand rapidly changing environmental conditions.
Other challenges that growers may face over the growing season include periods of drought, or sometimes too much water. Some crops have better drought tolerance ratings than others. Likewise, there are some that are rated better in their adaptability to a range of environmental conditions. Obviously, yield is an important trait, as is days to harvest. There are other important ones to consider such as market desirability, performance in certain soil types and conditions, and ease of harvest, among many other traits.
The important part about bringing up all these traits to choose from, is to encourage you to take the time to sit down and do some reading. Do some research on different varieties. Pick the varieties that are best for your farm and garden. Picking varieties simply because the picture in the catalog looked attractive, or because they have a cool name, does not always work out and may lead to disappointing results come harvest time.
I have heard it said that sometimes fishing lures appeal more to the fisherman than the fish, and often, the vegetable seed catalogs are no different. Many growers can be reeled into buying seeds based on pictures in the catalog, when in reality, there may not be a market for that crop, or it is a variety that has a lot of challenges during the growing season. It is always enjoyable to grow something fun looking or to try a new variety, but the key, especially for commercial producers, is to make smart business decisions when ordering seeds. Being prepared and giving yourself an edge when it comes to crop quality and production will go a long way. By selecting the right varieties and using the correct management, you could have major improvements in production and quality.
Just as important as selecting the appropriate varieties, is being timely about doing so. I am sure many of you faced challenges with seed shortages and back orders this past spring. Get ahead of the ball and take care of getting your seeds ordered now. Now is a great time of year to take an opportunity to really study those seed catalogs and dig deep into what they have to offer. These companies are continuously developing new varieties with better traits to fit the needs of the growers, buyers, and consumers. With the amount of seed companies, varieties, and traits available, I am convinced that there is something for everyone, you just need to take the time to find it! The value of picking the right varieties and traits is truly worth investing your time and effort.
Frank Becker is an OSU Extension Agriculture and Natural Resources Program Assistant and IPM Program Coordinator. He may be reached at 330-264-8722.
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