Photo courtesy MSU Ag CommunicationsLinda Breazeale
MAFES variety-testing operations manager Brad Burgess and farmer Jimmy Sneed visit a corn plot on Sneed’s farm near Hernando shortly before the 2009 harvest.
While farmers face challenges beyond their control—weather, production costs and market prices—a decades-old research service can remove some of the unknowns as farmers select seed varieties for the next year’s crop. Crop variety trials offered by the Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station give farmers insight into a new seed’s potential.
MAFES conducts trials for the state’s major agronomic crops including corn, cotton, oats, rice, ryegrass, soybeans and wheat, said Brad Burgess, the variety testing operations manager at Mississippi State University. They use the crop tests to gather data such as yield, height, lodging, stand counts and ear height.
“We want to give growers the best idea of a seed’s potential in a wide variety of conditions,” Burgess said. “Trials are scattered across the state on different soil types, in irrigated and non-irrigated locations, and where different environmental conditions will be a factor.”
University crop specialists, extension service agents and industry representatives make up the technical advisory committees for each crop. They oversee site selection and other trial decisions while seed companies pay fees to enter their seed in the trials.
Burgess said MAFES workers keep detailed records so growers will know soil and weather conditions, specifics on chemical treatments, and dates of planting, growth stages and harvest.
“Growers need an unbiased source for seed evaluations,” Burgess said, noting that farmer interest in the trials increases each year. “We try to focus on the crops and areas of highest interest. We also work closely with our statistician to ensure the interpretation of the research is sound.”
Jimmy Sneed, who has farmed near Hernando, Miss., for more than three decades and sits on the Mississippi Soybean Promotion Board, uses the trials as the baseline in making his crop variety selections. He wants to know what effort he put into producing the reported crop yields. High input may produce strong yields, but they may not be cost effective.
“Growers can take that data and compare it to seed company information and then make planting decisions,” Sneed said. “I want to be able to see how a variety has performed over two or three years. At the end of the day, the bottom line is yield potential and consistency.”
Farmers eagerly await trial results each fall before making seed selections for the next growing season, said Tim Walker, associate research professor at MSU who performs variety trials on rice, said
He said the researchers have a small combine that collects the data as the crop is harvested in each plot. In addition to yield, he tests rice researchers test for moisture and milling quality.
“Within two weeks of harvest, we can be ready to print all our data,” Walker said. “Every year, growers seem to want more information, and they want it quicker. Technology is helping us deliver it.”
The information that is gathered through the variety trials is distributed in bulletins and posted on MSU’s website.
Travis Satterfield of Benoit, Miss., watches the trial results for soybean, rice and corn varieties. In his crops, he looks for good yield potential, disease resistance and no lodging problems, and he compares the results from different locations.
In 2009, MAFES tested 101 varieties of corn, 44 varieties of cotton, 9 varieties of oats, 41 varieties of rice, 83 varieties of ryegrass, 274 varieties of soybeans and 41 varieties of wheat. Farmers can view results from 1994 to the most recent results on the MSU website. Printed bulletins are available at Mississippi county extension service offices.