Farmers can’t choose the weather or the prices they get for their crops, but they can choose the best seed for their growing conditions, thanks to research by Mississippi State University.
MSU conducts extensive official variety trials each growing season to document the performance of seed varieties under different growing conditions. MSU offers variety trial information on corn, cotton, grain sorghum, peanuts, rice, soybeans, wheat, oats and forage.
Valuable effort …
Brad Burgess is director of variety testing and foundation seed at MSU with the Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station. He said the information is valuable because it allows growers to see an unbiased comparison of all the varieties tested.
“We test as many varieties as we can from numerous companies and their competitors,” Burgess said. “This allows producers to see a side-by-side comparison of the seed under a large variety of growing conditions and a large geographic area.”
Burgess is responsible for the testing programs for corn, grain sorghum, peanuts, soybeans, wheat and oats. For each crop, researchers plant numerous varieties each year and grow them under conditions found at locations throughout the state.
Yield is a primary consideration, but growers also look at the data to see which varieties consistently perform well.
Brian Williams, Extension agricultural economist, said variety trial information can be of tremendous value to producers.
“Our researchers take great care in providing the most reliable and unbiased data, and perhaps more importantly, they are not trying to sell any one variety,” Williams said. “Care is taken to make sure no variety receives special treatment, and researchers do their best to minimize any difference in treatments between varieties.”
Information provided in the trials can help producers to identify which varieties have been proven to perform best in their specific areas of the state.
“If a producer can use that information to boost corn yields by even 10 bushels per acre, which could be easily accomplished, it could translate into another $35 per acre in revenue,” he said. “By simply switching to a variety that has been proven to perform better in their area, producers can see that benefits can add up rather quickly when spread over 1,000 acres.”
There is a wealth of information available on the different seeds, and gathering and evaluating that information can be time-consuming and complicated.
“Having all the data at their fingertips in one place can prove invaluable in the decision-making process, allowing producers to compare data and performance from varieties that they are familiar with, as well as from new or unfamiliar varieties,” Williams said.
Rocky Lemus, Extension forage specialist, said MSU tests 12 different forage species, including bermudagrass, bahiagrass, tall fescue, clovers, alfalfa, summer annuals and annual ryegrass. The forage program tests more than 130 varieties within those species. Forage tests are grown at MSU experiment stations in Poplarville, Newton, Starkville and Holly Springs.
“Our variety trial is year-round,” Lemus said. “This information helps producers make decisions on what they need to plant in the long term.”
Information from the MSU tests allows producers to determine what forage variety will perform best and be most economically sustainable in a specific area.
“We are one of the few forage-testing programs in the U.S. that has the complete screening,” Lemus said. “Research scientists and producers in the Southeast United States from Tennessee and Virginia and south use our information.”
Bobby Golden, Experiment Station agronomist, is responsible for rice testing. He said during 2014, MSU evaluated 21 conventional and 15 Clearfield rice varieties at seven locations in the Delta. Clearfield rice is a system developed to control unwanted red rice, a weed in commercial production.
Unlike most upland crops, the majority of rice varieties are developed by public breeders, with MSU, Louisiana State University and the University of Arkansas responsible for most recent public rice releases.
“We evaluate both publicly and privately developed rice lines, including inbreds and hybrid varieties,” Golden said. “We strive for consistency and try to provide a data set containing different rice varieties that outlines rough and milling yields over time.
“This is very important because a new variety may have a very good yield potential in year one, but how does it react to a range of cultural environments or in years with adverse climatic conditions? If you have a history of how a specific variety has yielded in your area, you can feel confident where your yield range is going to be if everything goes smoothly,” he said.
Darrin Dodds, Extension cotton specialist, oversees cotton testing in large trials conducted on producers’ fields and small-plot trials conducted at MSU.
“The goal of the small-plot testing is to look at variety performance based on genetics in a number of different environments,” Dodds said. “They follow a tried and true, scientific, experimental design and look at a large number of varieties. Each variety is planted in four separate plots at each location.”
These small-plot trials are conducted in eight or nine locations around the state on a variety of soil types and under both irrigated and nonirrigated conditions.
Large-plot variety trials differ in that MSU personnel plant the seed and then rely on private growers to manage the crop.
“We come back at the end of the year and collect yield data and fiber quality,” Dodds said. “These are designed to give you an idea of on-farm, real-world performance under grower-managed conditions. The grower makes every management decision that goes into that crop. It gives you a true idea of how it would perform under that person’s management system.”
This year, MSU has eight small-plot and 25 on-farm variety trials. Researchers tested 52 varieties of cotton in small plots and 10 in the on-farm locations.
“The take-away message from the variety trial information is to not just look at the variety that wins the trial,” Dodds said. “Most times, a given variety won’t win every single trial. Instead, look at the data that represents conditions on your farm as closely as possible; then look for varieties that are not only good yielders, but also consistently perform well across a number of different situations.”
MSU official variety trial data is offered free at http://mafes.msstate.edu/variety-trials.