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Choosing the right seed variety for your crop

There’s page after page of data about new seed varieties. Here’s how to find the ones that are right for you

You’ve read the markets, checked the seasonal forecast, considered your crop rotation and decided what you want to put in the ground come spring. Now it’s a matter of choosing the right variety. Opening up the seed guide, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the amount of choices and the huge array of data on each type of seed. How do you pick the right one for your needs? We asked Matthew Japp, the Saskatchewan government’s Cereal Crops Specialist and a contributor to its Varieties of Grain Crops guide, for some help.

Though this walkthrough is written based on the Varieties of Grain Crops guide for 2014, published by the Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture you can take the advice here and use it with your own provincial seed guide.

Yield isn’t everything

The seed guide contains a lot of information, especially about the yields of the varieties in different regions of the province. These yields are all compared to an index variety, usually the most commonly grown variety for the last decade or so, one from which a lot of data has been collected. A higher yield number for a variety in your region than the index means that, all things being equal, it will likely grow more bushels per acre than the index grain.

“Yield is always a consideration,” Japp says, “it gives you good return for your money if you can grow a little bit more but it shouldn’t be the only consideration”. In addition to information about relative yields the guide contains data on the disease resistance, ranked on a five point scale of Very Poor, Poor, Fair, Good, and Very Good. This info is derived from disease nurseries across the province, where varieties are inoculated with different infections and their resistance measured. You want to make sure the variety you’re considering isn’t super productive at the cost of its health; it would be a terrible shame to grow a bumper crop only to have it all wiped out by rust or ergot before harvest. You’ll also want to think about protein content and harvest times.

Know your local conditions

“A producer really needs to know what they have in their area,” Japp says, “know what concerns have cropped up last year, and pick a variety based on that.” Check the website of your local Ministry of Agriculture for bulletins about insects, funguses, and other threats to your crops. Make sure to also check with your neighbours and ask what they’ve been seeing in their fields.

Japp also says to make sure that you read the whole guide rather than just the data tables for seed varieties. Below each table are several paragraphs of additional information; this is the only place you will be able to learn about insect resistance, as it is not listed in the charts, as well as specific planting information. It also will point out which varieties are in short supply or will not be available at all this year. Other sections provide helpful advice on storing seeds to prevent diseases from becoming rooted in them before planting, as well as how to spot diseases should they manifest.

Don’t Bet The Farm

Once you’ve narrowed the options and selected a variety with the right balance of yield, protein, and disease resistance, it’s important to introduce the variety gradually. “I’d say don’t change the whole farm over at once,” Japp says. “You’ll want to put it on your farm for a couple of years before you start ramping up production.” You especially don’t want to let a particularly high yield the first year or two make your incautious, leading you to sow the variety far and wide only to have a single vulnerability wipe out all your hard work.

Choosing a variety that balances yield with disease as well as pest resistance, knowing your local conditions, and making sure to introduce it gradually to your farm, you’ll be on your way to healthy harvests and bountiful yields.

Use the links provided below to find the most recent version of the provincial seed guides:

About the author

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Michael Flood is a business writer and columnist. You can reach him at [email protected]

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