While Western Canadian farmers are still several weeks away from seeding the 2013 crop, most seed growers are already thinking about the 2014 season.
Seed growers, most who have commercial or commodity crops as well, are making plans on what to seed this coming spring — variety comparisons, new production practices, doing their own on-farm variety trials — all in a bid to have the most relevant varieties available for growers in their trading area a year from now.
Manitoba and Saskatchewan seed growers contacted for the March Farmer Panel say soybean trials top their list of variety trials, followed by new cereal and canola varieties, depending on the grower. In Alberta new cereal varieties will be evaluated this spring, along with some agronomic practices.
Most seed growers follow a philosophy that a variety has to do well on their own farm before they sell it to their customers. Sorting that out usually involves conducting their own field scale, on-farm, side-by-side comparison trials measured by combine yield monitors, and often confirmed by weigh wagons. These trials often seem like a good idea at seeding in the spring, but the extra effort can make for some hectic days at harvest — especially late at night when there’s a panic to get a field finished before a storm moves in.
Here is what seed growers contacted for the March farmer panel have on the books for the 2013 growing season,
Craig Riddell, Riddell Seed Co., Warren, Man.
Some of the most in-depth trials on Craig Riddell’s farm in 2013 will evaluate the performance of new R2 soybean varieties.
Riddell, who farms at Warren, just northwest of Winnipeg, has been growing soybeans for the past dozen years. As early maturing and higher yielding varieties are developed the crop has literally been gaining ground in his area, especially after a series of hot, dry summers.
“More farmers are looking to soybeans as an alternative to canola,” says Riddell. “I think we will see more acres seeded displacing canola. Particularly in the last couple years, canola hasn’t done well in our area. We’ve been getting those high temperatures of +30 C right at flowering and it really blasts the flowers. Whereas with soybeans they just love the heat.” He expects canola acres to be down as much as 20 per cent, for a number of reasons, but their inability to handle heat is one of them.
R2 soybeans are the next generation of Roundup Ready soybeans. This seed has a different mechanism for handling tolerance to glyphosate, which is intended to improve growth and yield.
According to company literature, “Roundup Ready 2 Yield soybeans contain in-plant tolerance to Roundup agricultural herbicides. This means you can spray Roundup agricultural herbicides in-crop from emergence through flowering for unsurpassed weed control, proven crop safety and maximum yield potential.” More pods per plant over other varieties, they say.
Riddell is involved in the Manitoba Crop Variety Evaluation Trials (MCVET), which involves small-scale research plots, and he also runs his own field-scale trials as he compares varieties. Field-scale trials are seeded and harvested with conventional equipment, with yields confirmed with weigh wagons. While the yield figure is important, Riddell also rates soybeans for pod height, threshing ease and overall harvestability. To further demonstrate maturity, he takes a series of photos during the growing season, which provides a good visual record.
On the seed side of the farm, along with soybeans he also produces pedigreed spring and winter wheat and oats. This year he plans to evaluate a new general purpose wheat called Pasteur, licensed to Secan, which is a long-season, high yielding wheat with a good disease resistance package. And he may be looking at newer hard red spring wheat varieties such as AC Carberry and Cardale, which feature improved yield and improved disease resistance against fusarium head blight, but the last two dry growing seasons really haven’t presented a disease challenge.
There are a few new lines of winter wheat Riddell will be evaluating as a possible replacement to CDC Falcon.
Brad Hanmer, Hanmer Seeds Ltd., Govan, Sask.
With the potential for soybeans to really take off in his farming area in south-central Saskatchewan, seed grower Brad Hanmer will be evaluating some of the newer, lower heat unit, triple zero (000) soybean varieties this spring.
“We are just on the cusp of having a sizeable soybean acreage in Saskatchewan,” says Hanmer, who farms with his family at Govan, about half way between Regina and Saskatoon. “So we will be looking at the new triple zero varieties versus some of the double zero varieties.”
Hanmer, who describes himself as a “schizophrenic” soybean grower — trying the crop “on and off for the past six years” — says there has been moderate success with the double zero varieties, so the triple zero varieties bred to perform well with fewer heat units may have slightly reduced maturity, making them even more appealing.
Along with soybeans, he will be re-evaluating sclerotinia-resistant canola varieties, shatter-resistant canola varieties, wheat midge-tolerant wheat varieties (such as AC Vesper), a new durum which may be an improvement over AC Strongfield, and new grain corn varieties as well. Among soft white wheats, Hanmer has grown the newer Sadash for a couple years along with AC Andrew. The evaluation in 2013 will be to confirm whether Sadash is a good replacement for AC Andrew.
“Fortunately with a sizeable landbase we are able to do most of our trials on a field-scale basis,” says Hanmer. With soybeans for example, he plans to divide 640 acres in half, and working with two air drills seed the double zero and triple zero varieties side by side. Canola trials are seeded in plots the width of the seed drill and a half mile long.
“With new corn, soybean and wheat varieties we design field plots that are split half and half, while with canola we do more of the strip field trials,” he says. “And sometimes we end up with trials we haven’t planned. We’re seeding one variety and run out of seed with 10 acres to go, so we’ll seed another variety and compare the two.”
All field trials are harvested with combines equipped with yield monitors, but yields are also confirmed with weigh grain carts. Canola trials are measured using yield monitors and weigh wagons.
“Our plans for these trials are always good in the spring, but when it comes to harvest there may be the odd one that gets sacrificed,” says Hanmer. “When it’s 10:30 on a Sunday night and we’re pushing everything to get done before a storm moves in there may not be time. But the one policy we do have is to prove everything on our own farm. I won’t sell anything if we haven’t grown it ourselves. If it isn’t good enough for me, then it’s not good enough for you. We need to always be evaluating crops to maintain our credibility.
Greg Stamp, Stamp Select Seeds, Enchant, Alta.
Along with evaluating new varieties, Greg Stamp will also be monitoring the effects of new agronomic practices on his southern Alberta farm this year.
Stamp, who along with his family operate Stamp Select Seeds at Enchant, north of Lethbridge, says he will continue to boost seeding rates to determine the benefit on both yield and quality.
“Our seeding rates have been trending up across the board with most crops over the past few years, and we will be increasing them again in 2013,” he says. Stamp Select Seeds produces wheat, barley, flax, fababean, pea, canola and tillage raddish seed on their irrigated farm.
With wheat, Stamp will be targeting 36 plants per square foot, up from about 30 plants per square foot last year. Stamp determines seeding rates based on the 1,000 kernel seed weight. Their wheat works out to 39 grams per 1,000 seeds, which translates to about 139 pounds of seed per acre to achieve the 36 plants per square foot. (Calculate this by multiplying the desired plant population per square foot  by the weight of 1,000 seeds in grams . Take this product, divide by the expected seedling survival rate [a percentage], then divide by 10. In this case, the answer assumes about 100 per cent seedling survival, and is 140.4 — about 139 pounds per acre.)
Stamp has some customers targeting 48 plants per square foot.
“With the higher seeding rate there is less tillering,” he says. “Most of the seed is produced by the main stem and first tiller, so if we can reduce the amount of tillering that puts more energy into the main stem and it also reduces the number of tillers the root system has to support. So if we can reduce tillering that helps to increase yield, and it produces an extremely even stand with even maturity.”
With flax they will be targeting 80 plants per square foot up from about 65 plants per square foot last year. “At these higher seeding rates the flax has done extremely well,” he says.
To better manage the wheat stand at higher seeding rates, Stamp will also be evaluating the effectiveness of a growth regulator this year. “To reduce the risk of lodging we apply the growth regulator that strengthens and shortens the stem,” he says. “A lot of farmers in irrigation districts and now with more moisture in the growing season even more dryland farmers are using growth regulators to reduce lodging.”
For the seeding rate trials, Stamp pre-programs the seeding prescription on air seeder to seed certain strips of the field at higher rates. “Once the prescription is written, the air seeder will adjust the seeding rate automatically, so it doesn’t matter who is seeding,” he says. In the fall, the yield monitor on the combine will show whether the higher rates have made a difference. Stamp also plans to buy a weigh wagon in 2013 which will be used to weigh yields, and also to ensure the yield monitor on the combine is calibrated accurately.
One other new agronomic practice planned in 2013 involves seeding tillage radish with wheat. “Research from the U.S. shows it does help to improve yields,” he says. The tillage radish, which produces a radish bulb along with a deep running taproot, works to raise nutrients that are deeper in the soil profile closer to the soil surface and also helps to open the soil structure. As the crop dies off in the fall, it leaves more organic matter in the soil, but the roots have created a channel to benefit moisture movement.
“I am trying it with wheat this year,” says Stamp. “I’ll seed a field of wheat, and then after the in-crop herbicide treatment I’ll come back with broadcast seeding equipment and seed the tillage radish. It will establish, but shouldn’t haven’t any effect on the wheat. Once the wheat is harvested, it will be released and grow producing this deep tap root, which should improve the movement of nutrients and moisture through the soil.”
Along with the agronomic practices, Stamp will also be evaluating new crop varieties. Among wheats, for example, he’ll be comparing AC Carberry with a new line just in the multiplication stage, BW931 — a hard red spring developed at SPARC, the Agriculture Canada research station at Swift Current. It has been licensed to Alliance Seed. “We grew some last year and it yielded just as well as a CPS variety so it is looking very good,” he says.
He’ll also be evaluating a Hard Red Spring, Cardale, developed by Stephen Fox at the Cereal Research Centre in Winnipeg. And he’ll be looking at two newer winter wheat varieties marketed by Secan — AC Flourish a Hard Red Winter well suited for irrigation, and Moats, a Hard Red Winter wheat better suited for dryland farming.
“We have doubled our winter wheat seed production just because there seems to be more demand,” says Stamp. †
Lee Hart is a field editor for Grainews in Calgary.