Farmers have a lot of questions when they are making their seed variety selections for the next season. How will this variety perform and yield in my area? Will it manage the disease pressures I am seeing here? In addition to talking to local growers, performance trial data can be a great source of information. But how is that data collected and can it be relied upon?
Nutrien Ag Solutions wants to answer those questions. “We are running over 200 trials from Fort St. John, BC to the eastern Manitoba border and we are very confident in the data and credibility of the protocols we have in place,” says Cynthia Deitz, Proven Seed Brand Manager with Nutrien Ag Solutions. Building trust with their customers and staff is one of their primary goals.
The Proven Performance Trials consist of three different programs: local performance checks, field performance checks and retail performance trials. These trials are run for canola, corn, soybean and cereals, including wheat and barley, with a growing list of producers signing up to take part.
The data from these trials is used for selecting which varieties advance for new product commercialization, to collect agronomic observations and to build confidence in and awareness of the different varieties available from Nutrien Ag Solutions. Proven Seed generally launches between five and 10 new varieties each year across its seed portfolio.
Local performance checks are where testing begins and they are managed by the Nutrien Ag Solutions Research, Development & Innovation team. These small-scale strip trials are completed following industry-regulated, scientific protocols. There are between 22 and 36 local performance check sites across Western Canada that allow for statistical aggregation by using the equipment on the combine, tracking of inputs and field data.
“We use these trials to select which varieties we want to advance the next year. We assess the experimentals that may be one to two years from commercialization. We include competitive varieties in these trials as well,” says Deitz.
Field performance checks are the heart of the Proven Performance Trial program and demonstrate real-farm results across Western Canada. They are producer-managed with the help of the Nutrien Ag Solutions managers of agronomic services and will include commercial varieties plus leading experimentals that may be released in the following year.
For all trials, growers receive varieties that are relevant for their geography. Usually several of those varieties have interim registration, having made it through the small-scale trials. For canola trials there is an internal check of a Proven Seed or Pioneer hybrid, as well as an external competitor variety, quite often DEKALB. The other hybrids are selected based on local conditions. If it is a high clubroot area for example, only clubroot-resistant canola would be included. The herbicide systems, such as Roundup Ready, will be the same across the trial so that the field receives the same treatment.
“A field trial running in Manitoba would look a lot different than one in Fort St. John. We would use different varieties to ensure it is as relevant as possible to that region,” says Deitz.
One of the goals of the FPCs is to collect data; primarily yield data but also observational data. Most importantly the FPCs give farmers and retailers some experience with new varieties, while allowing for comparative information on performance in the local area.
The aggregated information collected in these trials is made public to Nutrien Ag Solutions retail staff and customers because it is run on a large scale. Competitor variety performance can also be included in these results.
Retail performance trials include only products that are commercially available from Nutrien Ag Solutions. These trials are used for tours and building awareness and familiarity. They allow the staff to get comfortable and build confidence with the products, resulting in better conversations with their farm customers. They will see how each variety performs, in a side-by-side comparison, specific to the region, growing conditions and other factors, and against other products available.
Grower cooperators in the retail trials are provided new Proven Seed canola or cereal varieties to plant beside their favourite variety. In 2016, the first corn hybrid and soybean variety from Proven Seed were included in the retail trials.
“Soybeans started in Manitoba and southeast Saskatchewan, but we’ve got a trial in Barrhead, Alberta that is looking really good,” says Deitz. ”Soybeans are expanding across the Prairies and it’s important that growers, retailers and agronomists have an opportunity to experience new crops in their local areas.”
Corn is also increasing in popularity with forecasts of three times the number of corn trials next year. “Corn acres are expanding and we want to make sure we are giving our staff and customers information on what hybrids fit their area best,” adds Deitz.
Credibility is key
The protocols for the Proven Performance Trials are comprehensively laid out. Farmers understand what is to be seeded and where, calibration of equipment and expectations of the program. Meanwhile, the Nutrien Ag Solutions agronomists assist and ensure the protocols aren’t a barrier to the farmer getting it done.
The credibility of the data is critical to Nutrien Ag Solutions. “With our data results, growers see the bad in with the good. If we lose, we lose – and that happens. What we want producers to know is when we get enough trials out there, the results are statistically credible and reliable.”
Proven Seed is sold exclusively through the Nutrien Ag Solutions retail network in Western Canada. “Our Nutrien Ag Solutions retail outlets are the closest contact with the farmers and we want to help them establish a trusting relationship with their customers as a preferred seed retailer, where their recommendations are backed by data and experience,” says Deitz.
As the largest retail trial testing program in western Canada, there is no seed retailer testing as many varieties across as many different crops. The Proven Performance Trial program is always growing, with soybean and corn being added to the Proven Seed portfolio and farmers lining up to take part. Proven Seed continues to launch new varieties each year across a wide range of crops: wheat, barley, corn, soybeans and canola, more than any other seed company. The credibility of the Proven Performance Trial program plays a large part in that success.