Crop variety – the spice of life, or money in the bank?

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New crop varieties and variety tables are now available, so how should producers choose the variety that works best on their land? Harry Brook, crop specialist at the Alberta Ag-Info Centre looks how to interpret the information to make appropriate choices.

Producers should start by analyzing all the information contained in the variety tables. Says Brook, “The tables are structured with yield potential as the main criteria. It takes into account soil conditions, moisture, as well as individual management.”

“Varieties that perform well under both high and low yield categories have greater yield stability and consistency of performance, and thusly, less risk. The more station years a variety is tested, the more the information can be relied on to be accurate.”

Brook says that usually new varieties may seem to have significant yield advantages over the standard test varieties when they first come out. “Over time, as the variety is grown under more diverse weather and soil conditions, the yield tends to drop closer to the general average. Generally speaking, a cereal variety needs at least a six to eight per cent yield difference above the check variety to give a consistently better yield. In oilseeds, this difference needs to be greater than 12 to 15 per cent.”

Other than seed yield, the ultimate use of the crop needs to be considered. “Is it for feed, forage or seed,” he asks. “If it is barley, is it for greenfeed, feed grain or malt?”

“Once you have selected the crop type look at other management factors. What is your current crop rotation? Are you putting barley on barley? If so, your risk of leaf and plant diseases increases. Look at the plant’s resistance to common root and leaf diseases. Is lodging a problem? You should also be selecting for shorter crops or stronger straw. If you are in the irrigated parts of the province, you might select a semi-dwarf variety.”

Brook says to also consider seed size. “In peas, seed size has a very significant effect on seed costs. When seeding, you are trying to get a specific plant population per square foot. Seed size will greatly affect the pounds of seed needed per acre.”

“On top of that you also have to look at the germination rate and seed vigour,” he adds. “Tests for vigour try to replicate some of the negative factors in the soil that would kill off newly germinated seeds. This helps in estimating actual seed needed to get that desired plant population in the crop.”

Maturity is an issue, especially in marginal cropping areas or when seeding is delayed. Explains Brook, “The maturity rating is only an approximation and can only be used within a crop and region, not between crops. It is dependent on the kind of year and the area it is grown. For example, the Peace region has a shorter growing season than southern Alberta, but that is compensated somewhat by the longer summer days in the Peace.”

“Recent trends in plant breeding have brought out varieties with higher yields. That also comes with longer maturity. The last couple of falls have been difficult for harvest, particularly if long season varieties were grown.”

Brook says to remember that once a variety is registered, it usually takes a couple of years before sufficient seed is available for general farm sales.

“Think of the variety tables as a good tool, not an infallible predictor of production. Experience is still the best measure of which varieties will produce best on your farm. It comes down to personal experience with a variety to see how well it works under your situation.”

For more information about crop varieties, contact the Alberta Ag-Info Centre at 310-FARM (3276).

Source: Alberta Agriculture and Forestry