Harvest may be underway in Alabama, but variety trial results are in, and it is time for producers to begin making crop variety decisions for the 2022 planting season.
Alabama Cooperative Extension System researchers, in partnership with the Auburn University College of Agriculture and the Alabama Agricultural Experiment Station, have spent much of 2021 conducting variety trials. These trials are planted on farms and at the eight AAES locations throughout the state.
Variety Trial Results are Available
Auburn University Variety Testing Manager Henry Jordan said variety selection is the most important decisions a grower can make.
“The ability to manage the crop and make all the right in-season decisions can’t make up for a bad variety selection,” Jordan said. “The Auburn University Variety Testing Program provides an unbiased, third-party evaluation of commercial and experimental varieties side by side. This allows growers to make informed decisions.”
The program is currently testing corn, cotton, soybean, grain sorghum, peanut, wheat, oat, triticale and ryegrass varieties.
Visit the AAES website to view the variety trial results or to subscribe to receive updates on specific crops.
“The new Variety Selection Platform combines official variety trials and on-farm data, increases the utility and value of the data and gives users much more control,” Jordan said. “The new platform has multiple tools that allow users to customize the data to their specific growing situation.”
Producers can query a variety based on the criteria of their choice. They can also visually compare multiple locations and years of data simultaneously, compare potential varieties side-by-side, view graph data and more.
Importance of Variety Trials
Alabama Extension Cotton Agronomist Steve M. Brown said variety testing is a tool producers can use to determine the best option for their operation. The trial results can help eliminate some of the guesswork that was formerly a large part of variety selection.
“Variety testing measures the agronomic potential of crop cultivars,” Steve M. Brown said. “The resulting yield data and other generated information regarding pest susceptibility and other factors help producers make better decisions about what to plant on their farm.”
Variety trials, conducted by Extension agents, faculty and outlying Experiment Station directors, can take two forms. Agents and university faculty conduct on-farm variety trials, while university OVTs are conducted on-site by station directors. Companies are asked to provide their best cultivars or hybrids for the trials.
Paul Brown, associate director of Alabama Extension, said the Auburn University Variety Testing Program helps Extension agents and Alabama producers become more familiar with crop varieties that are available.
“Yield and certain agronomic traits are evaluated through the testing program to help growers plan for the upcoming growing season,” Paul Brown said.
On-farm Variety Trials
On-farm trials give producers a look at variety performance managed on a production scale. The trials also provide performance information for a particular geographical area. These trials also allow farmers and researchers to determine whether small-plot results will translate to full production scale.
Official Variety Trials
Researchers can include as many as 50 cultivars or hybrids in small-plot experiments at the experiment stations. OVTs are a mixture of established varieties and experimental lines.
Seed companies enter experimental lines to test their performance against existing lines. These tests also gauge how well a line will perform in different areas of the state. The company selects the cultivars or hybrids they would like tested, then researchers select other varieties for comparison.
The variety trials are an enduring example of Extension’s commitment to unbiased, science-based research. Seed costs are a significant component of crop budgets, totaling more than $700 per bag for cotton farmers. The choice a producer makes has significant financial implications. This is one of the reasons Auburn University and Extension personnel continue to devote time to the statewide variety trials.
“In my tenure in the cotton business, seed costs have risen from approximately $30 to $35 per 50-pound bag in the late 1970s, to more than $700 per bag today,” Steve Brown said. “This includes seed (230,000 to 250,000 seeds per bag), premium seed treatments and pest management traits. So choosing a variety determines the course of the crop and is a major part of the overall crop budget.”
Steve Brown said planting seed represents both a major financial investment and a significant management commitment for cotton, corn and soybean producers. The financial commitment is related to the cost; the management commitment includes the associated genetic potential, pest management traits and premium seed treatment options.
“Variety selection involves so much for today’s row crop producer,” Steve Brown said. “Not only does it determine genetics and the associated growth and development characteristics of the crop, but it also sets yield potential and affects certain crop quality factors.”