Superstar or stinker? Merits of new seed varieties can all depend on your farm

There are lots of new varieties with ‘really, really good genetics’ but they might not be a fit for you

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It’s that time of year again. With a pen in hand, you flip through the pages, circling what looks good, hoping you’ll get what you want and praying that what you get will be as good as it looks on paper.

Poring over the new Alberta Seed Guide may feel a little like flipping through the Sears Wish Book as a kid — but how do you know if you’re picking a superstar or a stinker?

Trent Whiting. photo: Jennifer Blair

“Superstar is in the eye of the beholder,” said Trent Whiting, Alberta and B.C. marketing rep for SeCan. “Across all crop kinds, there are a lot of fabulous varieties. Everybody has really, really good genetics out there right now. So it’s got to be tailored to what works best in your operation.”

And just like you wouldn’t get rid of your old toys on Christmas Day to make room for the new, you’ve got to be sure that the new variety you’re getting is better than the one you’re currently growing.

“My recommendation for anybody trying something new is, don’t toss out the old one that you’re growing unless you really, really don’t like it,” said Whiting. “What you’re growing might be the best fit for your operation, so you need to compare it against the new.”

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One of the mistakes producers make in picking a new variety is looking at all the shiny bells and whistles that a new variety may offer — higher yield, better standability, improved disease resistance — while forgetting about the benefits of their current variety.

“Sometimes people knee-jerk switch from one variety to another because of one problem they had, and then they’ll get into something that will cause them a different problem,” said Greg Stamp, head of seed sales for Stamp Seeds.

So when picking a new variety, you’ve got to think about not only what you’re trying to get away from, but also what you’re trying to move toward.

“You’ve always got to ask yourself when you’re growing something new, what’s next year going to look like?” said Whiting. “Some of it is crystal-balling, but some of it is making sure you have your rotations in place and trying not to chase the market, as hard as that is.

“It’s about trying to do just a little bit better for next year.”

That’s not to say that you shouldn’t try a new variety, he added. While it’s possible to get a sense of how a variety will perform on a given operation based on regional variety trial results, “Alberta is such a huge geography” and it can be hard to predict how they’ll really do on the farm.

“You can have a best guess, but you won’t know until you try them,” he said. “So you’ll want to look at what you like and don’t like about your current variety and really figure out what you’re growing and why you’re growing it. Then you can make the tweaks.”

Cereals

For new wheat varieties in Alberta, Whiting is most excited about AAC Wheatland VB (varietal blend) hitting the market this year.

“It’s a brand new midge-tolerant CWRS that stands phenomenal and yields well,” he said. “It’s kind of everything in one package from a wheat standpoint. I’ve seen it a lot, and I’m personally really excited about it.”

AAC Wheatland VB may steal acres from AAC Brandon this spring while AAC LeRoy VB, another new midge-tolerant variety, also looks promising. But be focused on specific attributes, your farm and your rotations, say seed reps. photo: Stamp Seeds

Wheatland is a “good next step” for producers who have grown AAC Brandon in the past, as is AAC LeRoy VB, another new midge-tolerant CWRS wheat variety this year.

“It seems like the midge-tolerant wheats — at least the current ones — are market leaders for yield as well,” said Stamp, adding they could replace some acres that were previously seeded to Brandon.

“We’re not necessarily growing them for midge tolerance. We’re growing them because they’re a great variety, and the midge tolerance is coming along with it.”

That’s becoming increasingly important as midge numbers in Alberta start to creep up, said Whiting, who didn’t think Alberta had a midge problem until he harvested a demo site north of Edmonton this year and saw the damage for himself.

“Two out of 10 of the hard red spring wheats had excessive midge damage to the point where it actually cost them a grade,” he said. “I would have never thought we had midge in that area — not even remotely. But it’s out there way more than we think.”

Producers have been somewhat reluctant to adopt midge-tolerant varieties because they have to sign a stewardship agreement declaring they will only keep one generation of farm-saved seed to maintain the resistance for as long as possible, he added.

“The one thing I want to tell everybody about midge-tolerant wheat is that it’s not something to be scared of,” said Whiting. “In Saskatchewan, the majority of their wheat is a midge-tolerant wheat for the last seven or eight years. It’s just good insurance against midge.”

And Wheatland’s sister line — AAC Starbuck — is good insurance against fusarium in southern Alberta. Starbuck is moderately resistant to fusarium, while Wheatland is intermediately resistant.

“It doesn’t quite stand as well as AAC Wheatland, and that’s why I’ve hung my hat on it more than Starbuck, but it’s still a fabulous variety,” said Whiting.

He’s also excited to see how CDC Fraser — a two-row malt barley — is coming along.

“The acreage of it is increasing, and the maltsters out there — specifically Canada Malt — are looking at growing their programs,” said Whiting. “We’re really hoping it keeps the momentum going into 2021 and 2022. It’s a really nice barley. It just happens to be a malt barley.”

Pulses

In pulses, CDC Forest is a green pea that acts a little like a yellow pea, which is good news for pulse growers who have struggled with lower yields in their green peas.

“CDC Forest is breaking the mould from a yield standpoint, in that it’s getting close to the yellows for yield,” said Whiting, adding CDC Spruce is another high-yielding green pea that’s gaining traction.

For yellow peas, Whiting sees CDC Lewochko as a rising star in Alberta.

“CDC Lewochko is a yellow pea that has the whole package — good standability, seed coat breakage resistance, yield, colour retention, all those things,” he said. “The acreage on it is limited right now in Alberta, but we’ll see how it goes.”

AAC Delhi is a jumbo yellow that’s coming out this year, and while its larger seed size might not be for everyone, there are some specialty market opportunities for it, said Stamp.

“There’s an end-user — XPT Grain — that’s real big on the jumbo yellow program.”

Stamp also has three new fababean varieties he’s excited about this year.

“That’s kind of unique for a small-market crop, but they all have different end-users,” he said.

The first — called CDC 219-16 — is a small low-tannin fababean for the feed market and for cover crops.

“It’s a smaller seed size, so it’s easier to deal with while still maintaining the yield and maturity similar to the checks.”

DL Rico, on the other hand, is targeted for the food and flour market because it’s a low vicine-convicine variety, meaning it can be safely used in food production. And finally, Fabelle is a tannin fababean that also has low vicine-convicine, so it has a fit in both the feed and food markets. (Vicine and convicine are anti-nutritional compounds found in fababeans that can cause health problems in some people when eaten.)

“The faba market is growing,” said Stamp. “North American domestic use is much more reliable than Egyptian importing. It’s so much more stable for the farmers, which is a good news story for fababean growers.”

But regardless of which new variety you plan to grow this year, it’s always a good idea to chat with your seed supplier early and get your wish list ordered before it’s too late.

“Seed supplies this year should be as good as or better than they have been in the last few years because we didn’t have the same weather events and, for the most part, the harvest was the best that we’ve seen in forever,” said Whiting.

“But local seed supplies might be challenging, so if you’re looking for a brand new variety, I would look earlier rather than later.”

For a more comprehensive look at the varieties that are on the market this year, visit seed.ab.ca.

About the author

Reporter

Jennifer Blair

Jennifer Blair is a Red Deer-based reporter with a post-secondary education in professional writing and nearly 10 years of experience in corporate communications, policy development, and journalism. She's spent half of her career telling stories about an industry she loves for an audience she admires--the farmers who work every day to build a better agriculture industry in Alberta.

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