Are you happy with the seed varieties you chose this year? More importantly, is your approach to picking varieties working for you?
Seed selection tends to be a very linear game. Seed companies typically contact seed growers with new varieties that may perform well and appeal to their customers. From there, the seed growers will work with their customers to provide reasonable choices based on the agronomics of their area and new information they’ve learned about seeds that have recently hit the market.
Greg Stamp is a certified seed farmer along with his two brothers in southern Alberta and said there is a back and forth between them and the seed companies to get new crop types and varieties in his ground.
“Sometimes I say, ‘Hey, what’s in the pipeline? What should I be growing?’ They know my sales records and how I do business with people,” said Stamp. “I’m open to growing whatever because our customer base is so diverse. With a hard red spring wheat (HRS) you have so many varieties; some are early, some have standability. Other classes aren’t that different like durum.”
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Stamp attends field days (and hosts one of his own), reads co-op trial data, and reviews information multiple times throughout the year on varieties that pique his interest.
However, some farmers already have their mind made up and they are only at the yard to purchase seed and nothing more.
“Some guys, they’ve researched it for a while, they know what they want and why — and they don’t even want your advice. They just want to know the price,” he said. “Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t. Some guys say, ‘Here’s my situation, what would be a good fit for me?’ I get all kinds. It really depends on the farmer.”
One of Stamp’s customers who is interested in conversations and recommendations is Kerby Redekop, who farms in southern Alberta at Bennen Farms.
“We picked (our varieties) kind of looking at the markets, what we thought what might net out a good return, a combination of yield and price,” said Redekop, adding that strong fusarium resistance as well as standability are two characteristics he’s always keen on. This year, though, he said his biggest challenge wasn’t characteristics but rather spring wheat versus durum, and securing a solid market price.
Redekop said his primary avenues for intel are fellow farmers in his area, his seed supplier, field days, and seed-related news.
“We live in an information age, but it’s still face to face and talking to neighbours and seed growers that are the most trusted source of information for us and our farm.”
The information age has certainly proved that old dogs can learn new tricks. Stamp looks after his farm’s marketing and has had “tons” of interest through social media.
“It’s been big for us to build a brand,” he said. “It gets farmers’ eyes on your crop, tweeting pictures of your variety and where there might be a fit.
“Even just the branding and awareness — maybe you don’t do business with this person on Twitter, but I’ve (been) recommended to someone else via a person on Twitter and he’ll get connected to me through that.”
In the Peace Country, Brent Konstapel helps farm 12,000 acres with his family northwest of Spirit River and scours the Twitterverse, learning from fellow farmers and eyeing their varieties.
“You’re always looking at it and there’s lots of reading,” he said. “You get to see different areas and lots of varieties. That’s the beauty of (social media).”
Geography always plays a role.
Fusarium isn’t a major concern for Konstapel and this year he chose varieties based on standability and midge tolerance, including three varieties of HRS: Muchmore, Landmark, and Brandon.
Both Brandon and Muchmore have high yield ratings and the latter also has better harvest time straw management in Konstapel’s eyes. Landmark’s midge tolerance rating has him optimistic, too. With his malting barley, he is planting Copeland, a deviation from the norm of Metcalfe. He is curious to see how it performs but also won’t stray from those two simply because they’re the only varieties his local elevator handles.
Like Redekop, Konstapel appreciates talking to his local seed supplier and learning at farm shows. He occasionally calls seed companies to ask questions, but rarely do they reach out directly to him.
An area where farmers will never have the upper hand is knowing what variety will prove to be the best blend of yield and resistance to disease and pests. Stamp cringes when he deals with farmers who pick their next variety based on last year’s problem.
“The year we got snow everyone was concerned about season length and how short season their crop was,” he said. “When we had a tough fusarium year, everyone was concerned about the fusarium package and (the following) year not as concerned. Sometimes people get too reactionary with how they pick their varieties.”
Stamp said farmers’ short memories may hurt them because their seed choices would be best measured over a three-year term, not just a single season. He said people don’t give certain varieties a fair shake.
“I’m trying to grow varieties that address a number of these problems,” he said. “They all want big yields with a certain variety, but maybe you have to spray a growth regulator. It requires more management, but not everyone wants to do some of these extra practices.
“It’s working with them to find out what their farming style is and what’s a fit for them.”