Trials bring out the truth
Many seed distributors carry out their own variety trials. What do farmers stand to gain from them?
Robert Harris finds out what one company thinks
UP-TO-DATE, unbiased agronomic information is what Judith Brightman, trials manager for Banks Agriculture, aims to provide.
"We look at a range of new varieties and products in our trials. That helps farmers to make the right choice. They have enough to do without trying to keep up with whats new in the marketplace. We help them to make the right management decisions," she says.
To ensure information is relevant to as many customers as possible, Banks has set up a network of trial sites across its trading area, from Lincs to Wilts, covering a range of soil types, climate, disease and weed pressure.
The main site is at Eynesbury, near Sandy – 12ha (30 acres) on heavy clay and split into three sections. Breeding trials are carried out for several European breeders to screen potential varieties alongside 20-30 commercially available ones. Winter wheat, and both winter and spring varieties of barley, oilseed rape, pulses and linseed are studied.
Contract trials mainly for crop protection companies, but also for fertiliser manufacturers, are also conducted on the site. "This was started seven years ago, but is now expanding rapidly," says Ms Brightman.
The third sector provides a "look see" area where some variety and new product work is repeated for the annual farmer visit. "These particular trials are not used to provide us with yield information, so visitors can get in amongst the plots and inspect them without fear of damaging them," says Ms Brightman.
Three more sites are used mainly for farmer demonstrations, although some experimental work is also carried out.
Exning, near Newmarket, is a 0.4ha (1 acre) light, sandy loam location concentrating on malting barley production. "Its in the middle of real malting barley country, so we can grow the crop in a realistic situation," says Ms Brightman. Varieties, fungicides, seed treatments and growth regulators make up the bulk of the work, and trace element experiments will be added this season.
The two other sites, on heavy clay at Sutton St James, near Wisbech, Cambs, and a new one on medium/heavy soils near Woburn, Beds, are more concerned with blackgrass resistance than varietal work, although some is carried out at Wisbech.
Breeding trials to screen potential varieties as well as a wide range of commercially-available ones provide farmers with plenty to think about, says Banks Agricultures trials manager Judith Brightman.