pick a winner

By Harry Brook

Early in 2022 is the time to look at the latest information from the variety trials. The “bible” for variety selection is the annual Variety Seed Guide, which usually comes out early in the New Year. However, selecting a suitable crop variety for your specific operation is more involved than just picking the highest yielding variety. There are a lot of other factors that need to be considered.

One of the most important indicators of the value of the information you see on the charts, is the number of station years the variety has been tested. Often, a new variety will show up significantly higher, against the check, but then slowly decline as more years and locations go by. Why is that? It has a lot to do with the genetics of the variety and its adaptability. Statistically, the more years and locations and weather variability under which you test a variety, the surer you are about how well it will do against that check variety. The results are much more repeatable and guaranteed.

Yield shouldn’t be the only factor to look at, although it is important to the profitability. Depending on where you are, there will be a series of disease risks to consider and the best way to handle that risk is by genetic resistance. With barley, scald and net blotch are the two most prevalent leaf diseases. Resistance in the variety does not mean you’re safe from that disease, just that, if it occurs, it should reduce the severity of the disease on the crop. However, resistance is not a guarantee and cannot overcome a poor rotation, lack of proper inputs, or ideal disease developing conditions.

Newer varieties often have a number of valuable traits. In canola, they can have blackleg resistance, clubroot resistance, glyphosate or glyfosinate resistance, pod shatter resistance or other desirable traits. Often the resistance can be either very strong or merely suppression. Then crop rotation plays a bigger role. A short rotation of wheat, then canola, can increase problems with blackleg, clubroot and sclerotinia. As with any herbicide or fungicide or insecticide, overuse of one active ingredient or gene will eventually select for the resistance to that gene, in the pest species. Sometimes, as with wheat midge resistance in wheat, there is no alternative resistance. Stewardship of valuable resistance is vital to keep our agriculture productive.

Other than resistance to common diseases, there are other physical factors you might want to select for. Maturity is very important. There is a rule of thumb that the later the crop matures, the higher the yield. However, this comes up against the growing season. We see this in the yield difference between winter wheat and spring wheat. What is your average growing season and will that variety mature to harvest before fall, killing frost? How much do you want to select for yield if maturity is doubtful? In areas subject to late spring or early fall frost would a mid or early season variety let you sleep better at night?

Standability is extremely important in peas and barley as lodged crops lose yield. Height can play a part in lodging, as can disease. Protein levels can be a significant factor in the value of a cereal crop. Higher is better for wheat but malt barley should be lower than average. Seed size should be a consideration when seeding to get the right plant populations, but in peas, seed size is extremely variable and can be a major cost in seeding, especially if the variety is a large seed.

Superficially, variety selection seems simple. However, there are so many factors to consider when selecting a new variety. Also, the ideal variety for your farm may be specific to you and the particular resources you have available. I once met a farmer who was using a 50-year-old variety of wheat because he felt it did best on his farm. Was he right? He was convinced. Narrow down your variety selection and try out one or two varieties against your standard and prove to yourself which is best. Hopefully, you pick a winner for your farm.

Harry Brook is Flagstaff County's Agricultural Fieldman. He can be reached via email at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or by phone at: 780-384-4138.