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New tape trial boosts on-farm comparisons

Results limited but specific to individual farms.


February 16, 2008
By Ralph Pearce

Every year it seems there is a government extension person or crop advisor asking growers to help with on-farm trials. It is based on several points worth considering. First, government extension is limited in its ability to conduct trials in every micro-environment across eastern Canada. Second, test plots, whether private or public sector endeavours, are carefully monitored and maintained, often to the point of being hand-weeded and watered to provide the best possible results, but only in one particular
location or soil type.

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The design of the GETT system makes it easy for growers to adapt the spool to a Deere (as shown), Kinze or White planter box, simplifying the process of performing on-farm trials.

Maizex Seeds of Tilbury, Ontario has developed a testing system that offers growers an opportunity to conduct their own side-by-side comparisons, with results that reflect conditions on their particular farms. The Genetic Environment Tape Trial or GETT system was launched in the spring of 2007 and holds considerable promise for growers.

The system has been in development since 2001 and provides a grower with as many as 20 hybrids, wound on to a spool containing a water-soluble tape that holds each seed. The tape is extremely sensitive to moisture and under ideal conditions, will dissolve in the ground within 15 minutes. The hybrids are selected by Maizex according to five distinct growing areas across Ontario and Quebec, and mechanically inserted into the tape.

At this early stage, growers do not have the option of custom-ordering hybrids for testing, although Shawn Winter, research agronomist with Maizex Seeds, believes they will in the near future. “Right now, we place 20 hybrids in a tape with a check replicated every four hybrids as well, to account for any variation across the row,” says Winter. The task for 2007 was to find the early innovators to test the system and provide a comparison of hybrids from competing companies. “Some wanted to see what would happen if they planted later or earlier varieties, and we met those demands. Within each trial, we have included two or three competitors to give the grower an idea of how we compare with them.”

The GETT spool can be adapted to a John Deere, White or Kinze planter by removing the hopper and seed tube from one of the row units, and inserting the spool and specialized seed tube.

Maizex is testing a new micro-plot combine which will harvest each hybrid one ear at a time. In testing the system in past years, the samples were hand-picked. As for yield, the samples are weighed, adjusted for moisture (using 15.5 percent moisture factor that is standard for corn) and then divided by the area of the strip. In this case, the GETT system represents 1/30,000th of an acre.

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More comparisons across greater area
The concept behind GETT is to identify which hybrids will perform better according to the many micro-environments across the region. Winter notes that in 2007, 100 to 150 GETT tapes were planted between Quebec City and Tilbury, giving Maizex and their growers a wide array of potential comparisons. “Our goal is to identify those hybrids which excel in specific environments,” says Winter, keying on the ‘genotype by environment’ interaction. “If we can identify the environments in which a specific pedigree excels, it would allow us to position hybrids for maximum product performance.”
Growers can now check the Maizex web site for information on the GETT system, including a video of the process. Trial results from 2007 also are available. Go to www.maizex.com/gett.php for more information.

The genotype by environment interaction is an important facet to understanding specific performance. According to Dr. Elizabeth Lee of the University of Guelph, the interaction helps explain why one hybrid might yield very well on one farm, yet do poorly just a few kilometres away. “And that’s without changing heat units or soil type,” she adds. “That may also be a reflection on management.”

One aspect that Lee likes is that a grower does not need any specialized equipment. Although the tests might not be as comprehensive as an Ontario Corn Committee (OCC) trial, it offers a grower the chance to see results at more locations. “If a grower has only so much seed, and if he has to do a strip trial or two or four row plots, he’s only going to be able to test at so many sites, so this will allow him to test at more locations,” says Lee.

From Greg Stewart’s perspective, GETT’s success is dependent on having some key questions answered. For instance, can the GETT system’s results provide an accurate and consistent picture of the micro-climates it is trying to define on a consistent basis, year to year? “Even if they can establish that those micro-climates exist, is a seed company ultimately prepared to deliver hybrids tailored to those specific climates?” poses Stewart, the corn lead for the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs.

Still, there are distinct positives associated with the GETT system for growers and Maizex. There is a convenience factor for both parties and there is the potential for use on a broader basis, possibly including OCC trials. “Some of the testing might spill over to OCC trials, if we could gain confidence in the GETT system and its results. It might allow some public testing in areas of the province where logistically, we can’t operate now,” says Stewart. -end-