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Feb 13

Picking a new variety? The Seed Guide is helpful resource

Posted on Feb 13 By: Victoria Decker

The decision to switch to a new variety can be a difficult one. Producers need to gather many sources of information to make the best choice for their farm. The Alberta Seed Guide is one great source of information that should be used in conjunction with first-hand experience from neighbors, seed growers and local experts on how new varieties perform under local growing conditions.  

The Alberta Seed Guide provides information on cereal and oilseed variety performance under Alberta growing conditions. The data in the publication comes from small plot research trials located at 19 sites across Alberta and northeastern British Columbia. It provides yield data along with important information on agronomic traits (height, lodging and maturity ratings), disease resistance, and quality traits (sprouting resistance, test weight and protein concentration).  

Yield

Yield is often the first trait (but hopefully not the last) that growers consider when selecting a new variety. However, it is important to understand how yield is reported in the Seed Guide so that meaningful decisions can be made. Small plot research trials are expensive to grow and new varieties are registered every year, so the data in the seed guide does not represent direct comparisons between varieties. For example, in the CWRS wheat tables, yield data for AAC Redberry is NOT directly comparable with AAC Viewfield, because these varieties were never grown in the same research trials in the same year. The only fair comparison is between individual varieties and the check. For example, AAC Redberry can be compared with Carberry (the check variety) and AAC Viewfield can be compared with Carberry, but AAC Redberry and AAC Viewfield cannot be compared with each other. 

Starting in 2018, two additional varieties were grown as “benchmark” checks to help growers make comparisons that are more meaningful. Since not all growers are familiar with Carberry, CDC Go and Stettler were the CWRS “benchmark” check varieties grown in 2018 and 2019. The “benchmark” checks reflect the two most popular varieties for the crop or within a market class during the previous year, based on crop insurance data. These checks will change as the popularity of varieties changes.

For each variety there are four to five yield values reported. The overall yield is based on data from all sites where the variety was tested over multiple years. Then, yield is broken out for individual performance in Low, Medium, High and Very High Yield categories. A variety that consistently performs well in all yield categories has good yield stability and will perform well under various growing conditions. A grower located in Oyen, AB would usually look at variety performance in the Low or Medium yield category, whereas a grower located in Lacombe or under irrigation should look at variety performance in the High and Very High yield categories. If there are less than eight site years of data (collected over at least two growing seasons) for a yield category, yields are not reported and an “XX” is used to indicate insufficient data. This helps to avoid reporting of unreliable variety performance data.

Agronomic Traits

Seed size varies from variety to variety.  Some tables provide an average thousand kernel weight (TKW).  However, it is important to base on-farm seeding rates on the TWK of the seed lot that will be planted.  Using a volume measurement like bushels per acre for seeding can result in vastly different planting populations depending on seed size. You can find more information and user-friendly seeding rate calculators that take into account these and other considerations.

With the difficult harvests experienced in the last few years, growers should carefully consider maturity ratings of new varieties. New for 2020, maturity ratings have been changed and are reported based on the average differences in days, relative to the check. This data has been collected from several growing seasons over Alberta’s vast agricultural production area. However, these values are relative. Hot, dry conditions will compress the reported maturity differences just as cool, wet conditions will expand them. For example, a variety of CWRS wheat may mature in 98 days in Lethbridge, but take 103 days in Edmonton. Likewise, a two-day difference in maturity between varieties in southern Alberta may amount to a five-day difference in a more northerly location.

Disease Resistance

It is important to know that the small plot research trials are grown without the use of foliar fungicides.  This allows yield data to reflect genetic differences between cultivars for disease resistance. Under disease pressure, the application of a foliar fungicide may significantly increase yields on some cultivars. 

The disease ratings provided in the tables are based on variety registration data that is collected from inoculated disease nurseries and it may be updated based on the breakdown of genetic resistance as disease pathotypes change and adapt.

Fusarium head blight (FHB), caused by Fusarium graminearum and other Fusarium species, is an increasing problem in Alberta. Durum wheat is the most susceptible, followed by, spring and winter wheat, triticale, barley and oat, which is the least susceptible cereal. It is important to know that a resistant (R) tolerance rating for FHB does not equate to immunity. Under severe epidemics, all varieties will sustain damage. All seed should be tested for the presence of FHB and treated with an appropriate seed treatment. Producers are advised to choose varieties with the best FHB tolerance whenever possible and always use best management practices to slow the spread of this disease.

Quality Traits

Variety selection should also be based on the anticipated quality of the harvested product. Pre-harvest sprouting resistance ratings provide an indirect indication of falling number maintenance under conditions conducive to sprouting. A variety with a “P” or “Poor” sprouting rating is more likely to sprout under cool, wet conditions prior to harvest than a variety with a “VG” or “Very Good” rating. Reductions in falling number are an indication that the germination process has started, even though it may not be visible. It is also important to know that under long periods of wet cool weather at harvest, all varieties, regardless of rating, are susceptible to sprouting and reductions in falling number.   

Growers struggling to achieve minimum protein requirements should also consider the protein data for a variety. For example, a variety with +0.7% protein relative to the check will likely have higher grain protein concentration (under the same management and environmental conditions) than a variety with a -0.3% protein rating. 

Acknowledgments

Data used to prepare the Alberta Seed Guide is derived from the Alberta Regional Variety Testing program for cereals and flax which is coordinated by the Alberta Regional Variety Advisory Committee (ARVAC) and Alberta Agriculture and Forestry (AAF). Sincere thanks are extended to all individuals and organizations who contribute data, time, expertise and funding to this publication.

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