Top Crop Manager

From the Editor: Beauty in the uncertainty

May 2, 2023  By Alex Barnard

Photo courtesy of Marinda DeGier, University of Guelph.

What makes a season successful in your mind?

Is it determined by getting your crops in – or off – the ground before a certain date? Is yield the all-important variable? What about trying a new practice or crop and having it work out?

Would you call something a success if it had no immediate or actionable benefit to your operation?


On page 8, Julienne Isaacs writes about research conducted at AAFC-London on metabolic resistance to soybean aphid feeding in soybean cultivars. The research generated evidence for a revised hypothesis, but not enough to draw definitive conclusions about the effects of improved soybean plant nutrition on soybean aphid resistance. And, because funding was no longer forthcoming for this particular project, the researchers were unable to conduct field tests that would validate (or not) their lab results.

So, with this context, let’s return to my initial question: Was this research project successful?

To my mind, it is. The researchers set out to learn more about soybean aphid resistance and they did. In the article, they discuss how they hope the groundwork they’ve laid will allow soybean breeders to develop more resistant cultivars in the future; the added benefits of this would be reduced need for insecticide applications and greater leeway for beneficial insects to manage the aphids on their own.

But an argument could be made that they weren’t able to answer the question with which they came to the project, nor are they in a position to continue their work and find those answers – largely due to circumstances beyond their control.

Circumstances beyond their control? Well, it’s not like farmers ever have to deal with that, eh?

Answers are hardly ever as simple and black-and-white as we might like, and results-centric thinking disregards a lot of wonderful things that might not be directly applicable. There’s almost always shades of grey, room for interpretation, or subjective biases at play. Though it would certainly be easier if there was a cut-and-dried method for measuring success, it would also be kind of boring. There’s a beauty in the uncertainty – which is handy, since uncertainty is pretty much the only guarantee in agriculture – and life.

As this is our last issue until the fall, I’ll take this opportunity to wish you all a successful 2023 growing season.

While most of you will have already started in some way, with warming temperatures (fingers crossed) comes a large part of the work.

So, may moisture levels and temperatures be within the desired ranges, and may pests and diseases leave your crops alone. Have a great season!  


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