Crop trials: the road to certified seed

Aerial view of crop trials for certified seed.

In the second of our Certified Seed blogs, Irish Seed Trade Association (ISTA) member John Dunne tells us a bit about what’s been happening on the crop trial plots. Crop trials are another essential component of producing quality certified seed and this is the stage where we get to observe the characteristics of a broad array of crops and varieties, and how they react to the Irish environment under Irish growing conditions. To record correct observations crop trial sites are under constant scrutiny.

It has been quite a diverse year so far when just a couple of months ago we were witnessing flooding from extreme rainfall. At this stage of the year many crops have received their final spray applications before harvest and the spray season is beginning to wind down, however here’s a look back on what the 2015/16 trials have told us so far.Crop trials for producing certified seed

Winter Crops

Autumn 2015 was generally a very good one for establishing crops, seed quality was excellent and good ground conditions allowed timely establishment of uniform crops. Considering the record breaking rainfall that occurred in the following months, this excellent establishment was well needed.

Many crops were lost along the south coast due to exposure and fields in most areas suffered some waterlogging. Nevertheless, nature has a great ability to compensate. Winter wheat enjoyed a dry May which greatly reduced pressure from Septoria. Despite this, we must continue to seek out new wheat varieties which are more resistant to this devastating disease.

Winter barley probably suffered more than wheat as it is not as naturally hardy. Lack of spraying opportunities in the autumn also meant that Barley Yellow Dwarf Virus (BYDV) was more common in winter crops than we would like. Such autumn conditions further highlighted the advantages offered by new seed treatments such as Redigo Deter which will help to prevent BYDV infection and is also a useful anti-resistance strategy in dealing with increasing levels of pyrethroid resistance being observed in the range of insecticides currently used in Ireland. Winter barley plants have produced noticeably long ears where plant populations were low, this again shows that compared to spring sown crops, winter barley has much more time on its side to make up for problems during the growing season.

Winter Oilseed Rape crops established well in Autumn 2015. However, extremely high levels of Light Leaf Spot have been observed in trials. This is most likely due to the very wet and mild winter. Variety trials showed some of the best ever comparisons between varieties in terms of their resistance to the disease. Light Leaf Spot can only be controlled chemically in a preventative manner – therefore varietal resistance is one of the most important tools to control the disease.

Spring Crops

The wet winter also impacted on spring crops as in the majority of cases soil conditions remained too wet for sowing until April. This late sowing presented challenges such as potential yield reduction from a shorter growing season and increased pressure from BYDV.

BYDV has been observed at very high levels in all spring crops this year, especially in the south. Similar reports are coming from the UK. These high levels are most likely down to very heavy aphid pressure in April, although increasing levels of resistance to pyrethroid aphicides is now becoming a real concern – the results of this years’ aphid resistance testing should make interesting reading. Plant breeders are now also working on BYDV resistance as a new selection trait which could be of particular interest going forward.

There was great interest in spring beans again this year and despite the later planting season, the area sown is substantial and probably at least as big as last year. Grower confidence in the crop has been bolstered by the new protein aid scheme and the excellent crop yields that were achieved in 2015. The relatively poor grain prices currently on offer combined with a reasonable forward bean price of over €160/t make the bean crop more attractive to growers.

Bean crops are generally growing well, dry weather in May kept Chocolate Spot pressure low, although the current humid weather is very conducive to both Chocolate Spot and Downy Mildew.

Lessons learnt so far this growing season

  • Redigo Deter is becoming a “must” for protecting winter barley from BYDV.

  • Early nitrogen application to winter cereals is vital to keep plant numbers at an optimum level for maximum yield potential.

  • Timing is extremely important when applying Pyrethroids to cereals, especially when treating late sown spring cereals.

  • Very high Light Leaf Spot pressure in OSR this spring has shown great differences between varieties in terms of their disease resistance. It is very important to choose a variety with a high resistance rating as chemical control of this yield-robbing disease is limited.

Open Days

The Irish Seed Trade are currently preparing for variety open days. The Irish Seed Trade is made up of 16 members many of which operate independent crop trials. If the opportunity arises to visit one of their open days, we would strongly encourage you to do so, as it is a truly great spectacle of a massive array of crops, demonstrating how they all perform individually under the same conditions. It’s a bit like getting a quiet word with the trainer before the horse runs!