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Hybrid Seeds and Crops

It is interesting to note that the word ‘hybrid’ denotes something made from two different species or varieties. It is also a rather versatile word! Hybrid can be applied to music (think of the sitar playing its part in rock music!), automobiles, various instances in the animal world, and perhaps even in words. For instance, the word ‘mattergy’ is a hybrid of material & energy and denotes the interchangeability of both! Indeed, hybrids can be found in a vast range of areas, including agriculture.
Hybrids in agriculture
Hybrid seeds are found in modern agriculture almost all over the world. These seeds are made from cross-pollinated plants. It is useful to note that ‘non-hybrid’ seeds are produced from open pollination or propagation. Within this ‘space’ of hybrid seeds, there are other elements to consider, such as the term ‘F1 breed’ which stands for filial 1 hybrid and is the pioneering generation of a hybrid.
Hybrid seeds come with their own pros and cons. Some of the big advantages to hybrid seeds are:

  • Higher resistance to diseases & pests
  • Faster growth
  • Higher yield
  • Longer life
  • Stress-resistant
  • Easier to grow

Some of the biggest cons of hybrid seeds are: - they are more expensive and make the farmer dependent on a seller of hybrid seeds. Sometimes hybrid crops have lower nutrition and taste too.
Most of the times hybrid crops are chosen for their robustness and productivity. Plant breeders work over multiple generations of plants and cross pollinate them to produce the perfect hybrid seed.

Farmer in a field of saplings

Apart from better yields and higher resistance to pests, experts make a case for hybrids because of their ability to meet ever-increasing demand. The Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) estimates India’s population will touch around 8.55 billion in around seven years. It is vital that the ability of the agricultural sector to feed this enormous number increases too.

Hybrid seeds and India
There are quite a few entities involved in this space of hybrid seeds. Private companies, agricultural universities from different states in India, and the Indian Council for Agricultural Research or ICAR have been highly active in producing many hybrids in the recent past.

ICAR is working in multiple domains as far as hybrids are concerned. Maize, pearl millet, rice, sorghum, and castor are few of the crops that have been getting hybrid variants in the past 5 years or so. Crop development programmes such as Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana (RKVY), and National Food Security Mission (NFSM) are helping ICAR in the hybrid sector.

ICAR and All India coordinated Research Project on Medicinal and Aromatic Plants & Betelvine are working with farmers to evaluate a betel vine hybrid in Jalagaon, Maharashtra. There have been many conversations around mustard hybrid as well. Hybrids have also made their way into fodder; Bajra Napier Hybrid is the focus of ICAR & Central Arid Zone Research Institute (CAZRI) in Rajasthan.

It would be interesting to see how this sector of hybrid crops progresses. There are pros & cons of hybrid crops. Perhaps a rational, scientific, and well-debated approach would be the best way forward when it comes to crop sciences.