Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Variety or Brand, Are you Buying Different Genetics?

Chad Lee, Extension Agronomist, University of Kentucky

There have been some questions about varieties versus brands. Farmers may be purchasing different brands of seed from different companies, but those brands may be the same genetics - - the same variety. There is a difference between "brand" and "variety". You need to know that difference. Cindy Finneseth, formerly with the University of Kentucky Regulatory Services, published the following in Regulatory News, Fourth Quarter of 2010. That article is posted here.

Buying and Selling Seed in Kentucky: Varieties vs. Brands "What's in a name? 
"That which we call a rose By any other name would smell as sweet."
Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet

Juliet Capulet may have believed that names are artificial and meaningless, but she was never faced with purchasing seed for planting purposes. To ensure purchasers know the seed being bought, the Kentucky Seed Law requires that seed sold in the state has the name on the tag or label. This name is the variety statement.


A somewhat recent industry labeling trend is labeling products as a brand or with product number. Seed can be legally branded in Kentucky, but the variety name of the brand must also be declared on the seed label. The label also must clearly differentiate which statement is which by use of the words Variety and Brand.
There are, of course, exceptions and special considerations. Seed kinds that can be, but are not required to be labeled by variety are listed in Table 1. All certified seed, however, is required to be labeled by variety. All yellow soybean seed must be labeled by variety name, with no exception. For some seed lots, the statement “Variety Unknown” is used.

So, what is in a name?
Quite a lot, actually. As a variety or cultivar (a cultivated variety) is released to the public, the plant breeder who developed the variety names and describes it. This variety description defines the characteristics of the variety.

By definition of botanical nomenclature codes, a variety must be distinct, uniform and stable. In terms of a new release, it should also be superior.

Names or descriptions provide the consumer with valuable information about varieties available for purchase. A variety description defines characteristics which can include: plant height, days to maturity, yield characteristics, drought and disease tolerance, and other characteristics, which can be important considerations when selecting seed lots for planting purposes. Many countries maintain National Variety Lists and lists of varieties eligible for certification also exist.

Again, why is that name so important?
A number of sources, both public and private, publish crop performance information, especially grains, by variety. In Kentucky, the UK College of Agriculture conducts annual variety performance testing to provide farmers, seed producers, extension agents and crop consultants with current, unbiased information to help select seed varieties for planting purposes. This information is valuable when determining which varieties are best adapted to planting locations and for other crop requirements.

Unfortunately , sometimes brands are misrepresented or misstated as varieties. This is a problem because brand names are generally arbitrarily assigned by a manufacturer for marketing purposes. If seed is sold only by brand name, when growers are faced with options, there is no way to make comparisons. If only a brand name is provided, a grower could easily unintentionally buy the same variety.

Since 2006, our program has been collecting variety and brand information for seed lots offered for sale in Kentucky sampled by our inspection staff. Corn, soybean and wheat seed lots sold under brand names have been observed as well as other crops including alfalfa, red clover, cotton, rye, grain sorghum and grasses.
In reviewing tag information, different companies commonly market the same variety under different brand names. An analysis of variety and brand information indicated that 50 yellow soybean varieties have been marketed under two or more brand names between 2006 and 2010. For corn and wheat, 26 and 8 individual varieties, respectively, have been sold under multiple brand names. As an example, the yellow soybean variety ‘15049’ has been sold under seven different brand names (4970RB, 8509NRR, H-4878RR, V49N6RR, DG4970RR, DSR-8509NRR and Excel 8509NRR). -side note from Chad: These brands indicate a range in maturity from 4.8 to 5.0, but they are all the same variety, the same genetics!! - - now, back to Cindy's article - 

 Another observation is different varieties marketed under the same brand name. For example, both yellow soybean varieties ‘491718 and ‘509255’ have been sold under the brand 4875 and varieties ‘4423183’ and ‘R4452N’ as the brand C444R. This labeling scheme is less common, but has been observed in seed lots offered for sale in Kentucky.

It is not unusual to see a brand designation printed on the seed label in larger letters than the variety designation. While this practice is not prohibited, it can be misleading. The legitimate variety designation must always be declared on the tag — clearly and legibly. Buyers should examine labels carefully to be certain of each seed lot’s variety.

Variety Not Stated 
 Another labeling approach that is legal in some states (but not Kentucky) is to use a brand name in place of the variety name with "Variety Not Stated". Since this labeling approach does not provide the variety name, it does not provide growers with information to utilize the strategy of spreading risk by planting different varieties.

Variety Unknown
Seed lots labeled as “Variety Unknown” are exactly that— unknown. For these seed lots, the seed labeler declares that no variety information is known. In the fall, we commonly see wheat offered for sale as “Variety Unknown”. This is acceptable, but the purchaser should know that the seedsman only guarantees seed lot purity and germination and no varietial characteristics. Suitability as a grain crop cannot be determined because variety information is not known.

The Kentucky Seed Law does not prohibit brand names or product numbers on seed tags, but the seedsman must also declare the variety. This provides the purchaser the opportunity to compare products with full knowledge of the variety. Use of incorrect variety designations or failure to provide a variety designation will result in a stop sale being issued on the seed lot. - end of newsletter article -

Thanks to Regulatory Services for this article. Regulatory Services also has an Excel file listing the brands and varieties they have checked over the years. You can access that file here. Take a look and see if the brands you have purchased truly are different genetics. 

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