By Rosalie Tennison
The Ontario Winter Wheat Performance Trials have always been designed to give growers useful information to help them make decisions, but the historical data is equally helpful because it shows how varieties perform over time under diverse conditions. The intensive management data introduced in 2013 proved invaluable in 2016 and could have an impact on growers’ choices in the future.
“The intensive trials include two applications of fungicide,” says Peter Johnson, an agronomist with Real Agriculture. “We got into a stripe rust epidemic in 2016, and had we not had the intensive trials, we would have been looking at a stripe rust trial. But over 80 per cent of growers use fungicide, so for those growers the unsprayed trials did not reflect what would happen in their fields.”
As a result of the comparison between the regular yield trials and the intensive trials, growers can not only see which varieties yield well, but also which ones yield better when fungicides are used. Johnson says the unsprayed trials are still important because they show the genetic differences between varieties.
Each year, sponsors enter current and newly released varieties into the trials, which are overseen by the Ontario Cereal Crop Committee. This gives growers an opportunity to see how newer genetic material compares with older varieties. However, the trial co-ordinator, Ellen Sparry of C & M Seeds, says varieties with more years of data give growers an idea of how they perform over time against the new kids in the plot. In 2016, the report also indicates which varieties are protected under plant breeders’ rights.
“We encourage growers to consider varieties with a long history of data and to make their own determinations as to what varieties they want to grow based on their needs, whether they want to achieve high yields or they need disease tolerance,” Sparry says.
The results of the trials are reported by area with results of each variety grown under regular management and intensive management. Growers operating in select regions can see a variety’s performance and will get an idea of how it will work in their fields.
“Every grower will look at the information differently depending on their area,” Johnson explains. “Yields are important, but it’s also the additional information that can be applied to each grower’s situation. For example, lodging data will matter to growers who have issues with lodging…growers along Lake Erie may have powdery mildew problems, so they may put more value on the intensive trials.”
Straw yield is another piece of data Johnson would like to see included in the trials, but he hasn’t yet figured out how to quantify it. “We know there are markets for it and we’d like to have winter wheat straw data, but only two of our locations have equipment to measure straw yield,” he says. “Getting this kind of data increases the time it takes to harvest the trials, and that can be an issue in some years.” Johnson believes the information would be useful because a variety that offers a good straw yield may appeal to some growers who have a market for straw. According to Johnson, the ability to sell straw increases profit opportunities.
The data available to growers is comprehensive and can be found online at gocereals.ca (including previous reports). The website also allows comparisons of two to five varieties for yield and agronomic traits, making it easier for growers to compare varieties. While some varieties appear to be clear winners in the yield column, they may not be as attractive in the lodging column or the powdery mildew column and that could matter to some growers. If a grower is only interested in finding a variety that performs well on multiple fronts in the area where the farm is located, the comparison helps.
“The winter wheat performance trials are a fair and open, unbiased place to get information,” Sparry says. The results give growers an idea of how varieties from Ontario’s seed distributors compare and how they might perform under each farm’s field conditions.
“We try to give growers the kind of data that is useful to them,” Johnson says. “If we can’t do that, why bother?”
For growers who have been to a company’s demonstration plots and who have seen a promising variety, the trials show how that variety will work in normal field conditions and all its attributes and failures can be compared to what other breeding programs offer.