Crop Performance Testing helps to maximize 2014 yields

News
Jan 4, 2014
by WLJ

Throughout each growing season, Bancroft farmer, Steve Weerts, enjoys watching his crops grow and mature. But the real thrill comes after harvest when yield results are in and he can see how his inputs and management practices paid off.

“I enjoy seeing results from what I do each day. Harvest is a time when you can see how the decisions you made at the beginning of the year work out. Of course, Mother Nature plays a role in that too,” said the fifth-generation producer, who farms with his dad, Eugene and uncle, Erland.

The men run a diversified operation with a cow/calf herd and a feedlot where they finish out their calves; they also raise corn, soybeans, wheat and alfalfa.

Once his yield results are in, Weerts cross checks how the seed variety from his fields faired against seed variety results from South Dakota State University’s (SDSU’s) Crop Performance Testing program. Based on what he discovers, Weerts modifies future seed purchasing decisions.

“We think there is a lot of value in seeing how different varieties perform in our area,” Weerts said.

Because the information comes from an unbiased, local source, Weerts knows he can trust it. Weerts enjoys an inside-look at how the Seed Performance Testing program is run—he is one of several farmers who volunteer to host performance trials in their fields each growing season.

Unbiased results

Providing farmers with local and unbiased yield results on seed varieties sold in South Dakota is the focus of SDSU Crop Performance Testing program. A cooperative effort between SDSU Extension and SDSU Experiment Station, 652 varieties or hybrids from 9 different crops and 63 public or private entities were tested in field trials throughout South Dakota in 2013, explained Nathan Mueller, SDSU Extension Agronomist.

“Although seed companies run their own seed trials throughout the state, this program acts as an unbiased third party to provide additional information to South Dakota farmers,” Mueller said.

The nine crops tested in the program are corn, soybeans, spring wheat, winter wheat, oats, field peas, sorghum, sunflower and flax.

Trials are set up in fields across the state to test seed performance locally so farmers can get a clear picture of how varieties perform in their soil type and growing conditions.

“The environment into which a seed is planted has as much to do with production as anything,” said Randy Englund, executive director of South Dakota Wheat Commission. “Our growers need to see how a seed will perform locally and base their purchasing decisions on that—not how it performed in Kansas.”

This year, the Wheat Commission used Checkoff dollars and helped fund a portion of the Crop Performance Trial which focused on wheat varieties. The United Sorghum Checkoff and the SD Pulse Council help fund sorghum and field pea trials.

When setting up trials in farmer’s fields like Weerts, Mueller and his team ensure that all varieties are treated the same. The test plot is in the middle of the farmer’s field, SDSU Crop Performance Testing staff plant all the plots using the same equipment.

Because the plots are in the middle of the cooperator farmer’s fields, they receive the same treatment as the rest of the crop—the same fertility plan, herbicides and pesticides. Cooperator farmers keep record of their management practices and share these with Mueller.

Trials are also conducted on three SDSU Research Stations in eastern South Dakota. Seed varieties or hybrids tested in the trial are sent in by private, as well as public, seed providers. In 2013 more than 63 private seed brands, distributors, and land grant institutions enrolled their seed in the trial. Each corn, soybean, sunflower, spring wheat, winter wheat variety entered in the trial has an entrance fee paid by the participating companies to help cover costs of the program.

“This gives farmers a chance to look at private seed company wheat varieties, along with those developed at our Land Grant University,” Englund said.

As harvest results came in this fall, yield results from each variety and test plot were posted on iGrow.org for the public to view. Even if all of a grower’s 2014 seed purchases have been made, Mueller says it’s not too late to make adjustments, and encourages all growers to take a second look and compare yield results.

“Margins on the farm are tight. If a farmer can improve yields by even several bushels an acre, by planting a variety that performs better in their growing conditions, that can have a significant impact on their bottom line,” Mueller said.

To view results from the 2013 Crop Performance Testing program visit, iGrow. org/Agronomy. If you live outside of South Dakota, contact your local Extension program to see if they have a similar program. — WLJ

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