If your house is like ours, the beginning of October is prime season for some very passionate (read: noisy!) debates about next year’s variety options. I’m fortunate to have a seat at the table and blessed to be part of a family that values discussion and group decision making.
Here’s what we’ve found works for us:
First, we do good research. We’re not afraid to try something new (we usually select one or two new varieties to trial each year) but we’re realistic and always do due diligence. Everyone reviews the Alberta Seed Guide to start. I’m able to add insight because, as a sales manager for Alliance Seed, I get to see how varieties from all the major seed companies perform in a wide variety of settings.
We consider multiple traits. Like everyone, we chase bushels, but disease resistance is important too since eliminating fungicide applications saves money and time. As cattle producers, we bale straw so don’t mind taller varieties, but standability is a must-have. For us, we’d rather have a ‘steady Eddie’ variety that ticks every box than a variety that offers exciting yield upside but high risk.
We also look at marketability. For example, I’m recommending we consider CDC Endure oats for its yield potential, disease package and the fact that, as a milling oat, it offers more marketing potential.
We always trial. As someone who practices agrology and advises farmers, I never recommend jumping with both feet into anything new. On our farm, we’ve designated a couple 40- to 50-acre fields as trial fields. We know those fields’ cropping and production history well, so they give us the best possible opportunity to see what a new variety can do on a field scale in our conditions.
We don’t put all our eggs in one basket. Yes, there have been years when we wished we’d planted all of one variety and none of another. But overall, we know diversifying mitigates risk.
Am I happy that we are leaning towards AB Cattlelac barley to serve our needs for silage and combine-able barley? Absolutely, but more because it’s a solid fit for our operation than because it’s my company’s variety. Still, I expect more intense dinner conversations ahead before we make our final decisions!