“Each year, new varieties become available which may or may not be superior to the existing variety you already grow,” explains Harry Brook, crop specialist at the Alberta Ag-Info Centre.
“Choosing a variety today is not a simple process. It takes time to look at and interpret the information presented on the variety trials and to narrow down the choices to 1 or 2 possible contenders. It also helps talking to your seed supplier, agronomist and neighbours about their experiences with new varieties.”
The latest varieties of cereal and oilseed crops for Alberta is now available, and Brook says that the tables are useful to sort out promising varieties.
“Many people tend to concentrate on yield, and that makes sense as you are paid for yield. Before looking at yields, take note of the number of station years where the variety was tested. The greater the number of places and years the variety was tested, the more accurate the results are, and the more likely that variety will perform up to the level of the rating listed. In varieties where there are few station years, take that into account when looking at the results. As a variety is grown in different climatic conditions and locales, there is greater confidence it will perform similarly on your farm.”
Some crops, like flax, have limited numbers of sites and years where varieties are tested. He says to use the rating tables as a general guideline, not a promise.
“You may notice in cereals and oilseeds that yield is broken down into categories of low, medium and high. These correspond to the environmental productivity or potential of a site. It can vary depending on weather for the year, fertility program, soil conditions, pest control and management issues. Think of your farm operations place in that continuum. Consistent productions levels across all yield potential categories indicates consistent yields that should work on your farm.”
He adds that it is deceptive to think because a variety has a yield rating 6% higher than the check variety, it will perform better than your present variety.
“Often, newer less tested varieties can initially have unrealistically large yield improvement over the check varieties. As years and additional sites test it, the yield improvement number tends to decline as it is tested under the full range of conditions.”
Consider other factors when choosing a variety, including the thousand kernel weights.
“Those are useful when determining the seeding rate, and particularly in peas, the thousand kernel weights are essential to grow the desired plant populations per square foot or square metre.”
Seed size and variability are highest in peas, and he says that there can be a 30% difference in pea seed size. It can greatly affect the pounds of seed needed to get that target plants per square foot.
“It also has a big effect on seed costs per acre because the larger the seed, the more seed you have to buy.”
Crop maturity is also important, as there is a direct link between higher yields and longer maturity.
“These last few harvests have given us problems at harvest with lower than average heat units, leading to immature crops when winter arrives. If you choose varieties with shorter maturities, it can reduce a lot of the weather risk for harvesting in winter or next spring.”
“Standability is a very important trait in all crops,” he explains. “Lodging in cereals is a persistent problem which reduces crop quality, profitability and harvest ease. In peas, you want a crop to be standing at harvest. Disease can have a major bearing on this, too.”
“What kind of disease package each variety carries is important, especially if you are farming a tight rotation. Tight crop rotations increase the risk of disease negatively affecting crop yields.”
He adds that having resistance to common diseases may not eliminate the risk of the disease occurring, but it should reduce the effect on the crop.
“You still have to be vigilant and monitor crop conditions and treat accordingly.”
“Regardless of what the tests say, they are merely a guideline to help you decide,” says Brook.
“The rubber hits the road when you grow it on your unique fields and under your management. That is when you find the best variety for you. Use this tool wisely as a guide.”