What F1 hybrid seeds mean and why avoid them

On the sachets of seeds or on the tags of the seedlings that we find on the market we often read the words "hybrid seed F1".

It may be useful to try to explain what this term means, without wanting to demonize hybrids at all costs but also trying to clarify the reasons for which they are produced and the consequences that this selection work has in agriculture.

My opinion, I say it immediately, is that it would be a good practice to boycott F1 seeds, favoring local varieties and learning to preserve the seeds from year to year, which the hybrid seed does not allow. Giorgio Avanzo makes a more complete reflection on this issue in the article on problems and alternatives to hybrids.

What does hybrid variety mean

The term hybrid means that the seed is the result of a cross. Hybridization also occurs in nature, thanks to the incessant work of bees, other insects and animals or the wind. The pollen of one plant fertilizes another, of a different variety, the result is a new variety. Man has also created crossings since ancient times, selecting the most productive varieties and experimenting with hybrids in search of the best cultivars.

What does F1 hybrid mean

F1 is a first generation hybrid, obtained through a long genetic selection process to obtain fruits that have certain desired characteristics.

If you want to have plants with a certain characteristic (if, for example, we want tomatoes that bear fruits of a regular shape), you need to select the varieties with a process called segregation. This operation consists in isolating the specimens that show the characteristic and reproducing them among themselves. By repeating this step several times, a cultivar with the desired character is finally obtained. By resorting to autogamous fertilization (of the plant with itself) or in any case continuing to cross a limited number of specimens, plants with a very weak genetic patrimony develop.

When the desired characteristics are two (if for example we want to obtain tomatoes with a regular shape and which all ripen in the same period) we must proceed with two separate segregation lines: on the one hand, the characteristic of homogeneous ripening is isolated, with another genetic line regular fruit plants are isolated. By crossing the result of these two segregation processes, F1 seed is obtained, a generation of plants that have the two desired characteristics.

Only the first generation of seeds resulting from this process is called F1 and is the one that manifests the selected peculiarities.

Subsequent generations called F2 and then F3 will have a modified genetics, because some latent characteristics in the DNA of F1 plants can come back. Often the F1s are sterile or produce low productive F2 generations, considering that the autotrophic fertilization practiced in previous generations involves a serious genetic weakening. In any case, the F2 plants will not have the characteristics for which the F1 seeds were selected. For this reason it is not advisable to reproduce F1 seed.

This non-reproducibility is the wealth of multinational companies that produce seeds: the seeds selected in the laboratory cannot be handed down independently by the buyer. To have the F1 variety the farmer is forced to buy back the seeds every year and becomes dependent on the multinational.

Why F1 hybrids are best avoided

  • They cost more, since you pay for all the lab work.
  • They cannot be reproduced, using F1 means always being dependent on the seed seller. No self-production, no exchange of seeds between farmers.
  • They don't always bear better fruit. Multinationals select features that are useful for industrial agriculture. It matters little that the vegetables are good and tasty, rather they are looking for their good appearance, regular shape, the ability to preserve themselves, homogeneous ripeness. F1 varieties often reflect the empty values ​​of our consumer society, based on appearance rather than substance.

Alternatives to hybrids

Rather than buying hybrid seeds, I invite you to choose reproducible seeds, perhaps of ancient and local varieties. Preserving a particular variety means safeguarding biodiversity, an added value that does not interest those who genetically select plants in the laboratory.

For those who want to boycott F1 hybrid seeds, I recommend Arcoiris seeds (which can be purchased here), which are organic, some even biodynamic, not hybrid due to the company's ethical choice. Even better then reproducing your own seeds, exchanging them with other gardeners, supporting the associations of seed savers: many good practices to boycott F1 seeds.

I recommend avoiding hybrids not only by buying seeds but also by buying seedlings in the nursery: if you take an F1 plant you will not be able to get seeds that will be useful for yours for the following year.

Other interesting reads:

Matteo Cereda2019-01-12T06: 59: 17 + 01: 00
  1. Benito Antonio14 July 2017 at 7:27

    For years I have been using native tomato seeds, like Roma and flasks, seeds handed down from grandparents, they are commonly called "over water or dry" and have the characteristic that they are never watered, they are almost immune from downy mildew and other diseases, they can be preserved until January February. Every now and then I sprinkle the seedlings, with the fruits, with a macerate of horsetail. Medium-low plants do not require support ... My area is located in the middle Valle del Liri -Fosinone- I BANDIT F1. Greetings.

  2. Lorenzo14 July 2017 at 11:16

    For those who share the content of this post and want to become an active part in the conservation of seeds, I recommend that you visit the Civiltà Contadina site and join the association that aims to conserve and pass on biodiversity through the exchange of seeds.

    I have been enrolled for a few years to support them, but now I have to learn how to garden and then get the seeds, before I can exchange them. I'm sure this nice site will help me.

  3. Luca16 July 2017 at 23:08

    Is it called autogamous non-autotrophic fertilization? ... otherwise alive biodiversity

    • Matteo Cereda17 July 2017 at 7:53

      Lapsus! I correct and thank you for the report.

  4. Francesco Ricotti9 April 2018 at 12:40

    A truly biased article, and with a clear denigrating intention towards hybrid crops, pushing people, with little knowledge of biology, to think that hybrid crops "really enrich multinationals, without knowing that they are the basis of the quantity and quality of food that surrounds us.

    • Matteo Cereda9 April 2018 at 13:18

      Hi Francesco. My article is certainly (and proudly!) Biased, I believe it is a value to preserve ancient varieties and obtain seeds from one year with the next from one's garden. The fact that multinationals get rich with hybrids is a fact, for all to see. Of course, what you say is also true: the vegetables we find in the supermarket are mainly from hybrids, but I do not think this brings qualitative advantages, it is an agri-food chain based on logic that I do not agree with. I have an opinion and in the article I have argued it, I respect the fact that you have a different opinion, even if in your critical comment I do not find interesting arguments in support of the hybrid (if you have one, I will read them with interest).
      Just for those who have little knowledge in biology I have tried to explain in simple terms how the creation of a hybrid takes place, my opinion comes separately from the explanatory part.
      I do not think I have written false things and I do not hide my opinion, explaining the reasons.

  5. Stefania19 May 2018 at 23:47

    And then this is Matteo's site and he can write his opinion and make it known to those who, like me, value him and follow him with interest. Surely there will be people who agree and people who think differently. I don't see the need to attack him without arguing his position. Thanks Matthew x your advice and your opinions.

  6. Sabrina8 June 2018 at 22:55

    Mr. Francesco stop also on the Quantity, but never ever on the Quality. Perhaps you cultivate a vegetable garden, I say perhaps, the flavor of a vegetable harvested from your garden will never be compared to the products we find in the supermarket. Try a simple tomato maybe just picked

  7. The Sympathetic Michele4 July 2018 at 17:15

    Hello to all. My name is Michele and only today I discover, with great pleasure, the existence of this site (I was searching on Google for "semi sterile" sigh ...).
    Does anyone know the Kamona tomato story by chance? The same countrymen of mine to whom I have asked have not been able to answer me. Just a vague, non-exhaustive answer from a girl from a cooperative who mentioned patent issues. Now the tomato that I was munching 10 years ago (crunchy, tasty, sweet but also sour and juicy) has been replaced by a dull “Sardinian tomato” that recalls Kamona only for the greenish veins near the stalk. The fact that he is no longer there saddens me, pains me and also makes me inc ... ... like a beast.

    • Matteo Cereda4 July 2018 at 17:29

      Hi Michele, I share your outburst. I did not know the story, but it is important to save seeds because if we don't do it with our small gardens, unfortunately no one will.

  8. Sergio28 August 2018 at 13:02

    Thanks! I was not aware of this F1 seed issue. I ordered the organic seeds.

  9. Matteo5 March 2019 at 21:38

    I think you wrote true things for sure, but that's not all.
    Hybrid seeds cost more because there is a lot of work behind them, they are not reproducible, this is also true.
    But the fact is that hybrids allow for higher yields, higher strengths.
    Moreover, not everyone has the possibility, the ability or simply the desire to keep a vegetable garden and have to go to the supermarket.
    From an industrial point of view, if traditional varieties were used in the open field, which must then be processed and transformed, these would not be suitable at all, for example, industrial tomatoes are specifically harder because they have to bear the load on tractors and transport to the company, something that with the traditional varieties everyone would pulp.
    Resistances are another strength in addition to yields, many traditional varieties have disappeared precisely due to new pathogens.
    Having said that the global population will increase for a long time and still today there are problems of hunger in the world, the production we have today is not enough.
    Finally, farmers are not stupid, if they grow hybrid varieties besides having agreements with processing companies it is because they can earn a little more.
    However, I respect your opinion

    • Matteo Cereda5 March 2019 at 22:31

      Hi Matteo, I also respect your opinion, even though I don't fully share it. Certainly the hybrids have a lot of work and research behind them, and they are select varieties. What I often disagree with are the selection criteria. For example, having fruits that are regular in size is one of the most sought after characteristics. Resistance to pathogens is not always considered a priority: industrial agriculture involves the massive use of pesticides and therefore it is not certain that ancient varieties are more delicate, indeed they are in any case the result of selections (natural and even peasant).
      The fact that the selection is made to adapt to mechanical processing is very true, and it is a problem. I recommend Vandana Shiva's book (soil not oil) which explains how oil-dependent agriculture is not sustainable. I believe that a more natural agriculture (not naive, but well studied) is able to feed as much (and more) as an industrialized one.

      • Matteo21 March 2019 at 20:53

        But how is it possible to feed more people if the yields of the hybrids are more than double compared to the so-called ancient varieties?
        I can give you the example of corn, I'm writing a thesis on the genetic improvement of corn, in this species the productivity of hybrids is more than double.
        In my opinion, the price of the hybrid seed, although higher, justifies this productivity by far.
        The use of pesticides is a must to maintain a high productivity, or we use GMOs to which I would still be in favor of the fact that phytosanitary treatments are reduced to almost zero
        but if you want to use ancient varieties that already have low productivity combined with less specific and less frequent treatments at the end of the season you are lucky to have 10% of the total

        • Matteo Cereda21 March 2019 at 22:04

          We do not agree at all. Productive and natural agriculture is also possible by working on a small scale, well organized. I know many young agricultural realities that make their few hectares bear fruit in an excellent way with organic methods, focusing on a healthy environment and on the care of the soil. In this context, the ancient varieties can express themselves at their best. The productivity of industrialized agriculture has to be demonstrated: it should be evaluated first of all over a long period and above all by calculating in the equation also the accessory environmental damage it causes, the cost (in terms of resources and environment) of what is used for cultivate (apart from pesticides and fertilizers I also speak of oil and in general of the means it requires).

  10. Jean22 June 2019 at 19:52

    I recommend the recent investigation by the French Cash Investigation on hybrid and above-ground (hydroponic) tomatoes. Reporters found that these contain up to 60% less nutrients (!!!) as well as lacking flavor.

    • Matteo Cereda23 June 2019 at 0:09

      I'll go look for the investigation. But I think this is the fault of hydroponics and not of the hybrid. Hydroponics should not be demonized, the problem is that it is very complex to artificially supply the plant with all the right substances.

  11. ANGEL14 March 2020 at 19:21

    “They don't always bear better fruit. F1 varieties often reflect the empty values ​​of our consumer society, based on appearance rather than substance. "..................................
    BUT HOW MANY SNACKS !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! saying FAKE NEWS is an understatement .........

    • Matteo Cereda14 March 2020 at 21:44

      Hi Angel. I am very pleased to compare with those who think differently from me. But I'd rather you argue than just denigrate. It is a fact that intensive industrial agriculture is the largest customer of seed companies. Among the characteristics most requested by intensive agriculture are: regular shape, homogeneous ripening and aesthetic appearance. It seems obvious to me that a large part of the selection is oriented on these aspects. I'd like to know where the fake news is.

  12. Luciano Bonzanini9 April 2020 at 21:17

    Hello everyone, I received from my father some tomato seeds taken from the fruit for the fourth consecutive year. The originals were seedlings bought in consortium and I think they were almost certainly F1. The fact is that every year the tomatoes (ox heart) are always beautiful, huge and juicy every year… how is that possible?

    • Matteo Cereda10 April 2020 at 0:54

      Hi Luciano. The seeds "children" of an F1 can be excellent tomatoes. What you need to know is that the daughter variety does not have the characteristics of the parent variety. So it's a bit of a lottery and often very weak plants result.

  13. Alessio M.11 May 2020 at 15:34

    Really useful article, I have a doubt .. if I have little space and use different varieties of tomato (original non F1) how can I keep the variety avoiding natural pollinations? Can I isolate a plant but then the problem of weak genetic heritage arises?

    • Matteo Cereda11 May 2020 at 22:01

      You can isolate the flower and fertilize it as you please.

  14. Roberto23 August 2020 at 14:29

    Interesting article. But when I got to the 'biodynamic seeds', my arms fell off. How do you give credit to that jumble of semi-mystical theories?

    • Matteo Cereda23 August 2020 at 15:46

      Hi Roberto, biodynamics has very interesting aspects. Personally I don't follow that method and I don't believe in all the practices described, but some of the best farmers I know manage the fields according to biodynamic practices and I assure you that they are very well prepared people.
      Unfortunately biodynamics has often been attacked in a simplistic way by illustrious detractors (including a life senator with a lot of visibility) taking as an example only some aspects, if you have the opportunity to deepen without preconceptions I think there is a lot to learn.
      Finally, as a buyer, the biodynamic certification guarantees a product subject to limits on the use of tighter treatments than organic, so I personally consider it a plus.

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