Q: I am happy with the variety I am currently growing — why change?
A: New seed varieties come to market every year; some with much anticipation and others with very little fanfare. On-farm performance of these varieties does not come from popularity or marketing campaigns. This can make it difficult for producers to identify varieties that are ideally suited for their farms.
If the current variety is performing well, this decision becomes more challenging. There are a few things growers can look at while making this decision. Often newly released varieties will show increased yield, improved disease resistance and enhanced agronomic traits.
Yield improvement tends to be an important reason to grow new varieties. A 2013 Dutch study called Genetic Progress in Dutch Crop Yields showed between 1980 and 2010 new wheat and barley varieties averaged a one per cent per year yield increase — we would expect to see similar results in Western Canada. One per cent may not seem like much over a single year, but these incremental gains add up and have a significant impact on both actual and potential yield.
Disease resistance is often a driver in new variety selection. Over time, varietal resistance to pathogens can drop off as a pathogen evolves. A good example of this would be blackleg resistance. Field populations of the blackleg pathogen can evolve when they are exposed to the same specific resistance genes. This can lead to less effective genetic resistance.
As a preventive strategy, choosing varieties that provide resistance to clubroot and fusarium head blight may help limit geographic spread. Other times, new genes are discovered or identified that provide stronger and more durable resistance.
Finally, new varieties can exhibit agronomic traits that were not previously available. This includes varieties that mature quickly, stand better, improve grade or quality, and allow for ease of harvest under more intensive management practices leading to higher yields. Switching to a new variety containing these agronomic traits can allow for higher production while improving the harvest experience.
Jordan Peterson, PAg, CCA, is a manager of agronomic services for Nutrien Ag Solutions in northern Alberta.