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Canola Trials Back on Track Germination March 2012

Canola Trials Back on Track

When the Prairie Canola Variety Trials ceased to exist in 2010 due to debate about the format of the protocol, the canola industry was encouraged to evaluate the trialing approach and make some significant changes. As a result, a new trial program was born and launched last year. The Canola Performance Trials, which released its 2011 data in December, is in part funded by the three Prairie canola grower groups. The trials are coordinated by Haplotech under the guidance of a governance committee.

Germination sat down with several key canola seed industry representatives to get their thoughts on the new program.


Dave Kelner is technology development lead for Western Canada with Monsanto Canada Inc., based in Winnipeg, Man. His team conducts field scale canola, corn, and soybean variety testing and is responsible for new canola trait development as well as agronomy and weed management research in Western Canada.


Calvin Sonntag is co-CEO of BrettYoung Seeds. Previously, he served as president and CEO of Philom Bios/Novozymes BioAg, as well as commercial group director for Monsanto Canada.


Rick Wiebe has been the specialty canola marketing manager for Cargill since 2009. Previous to this position, Wiebe was a territory manager for Cargill for four years.


Al Eadie is manager of the Market Development group for Bayer CropScience in Canada. He has worked for Bayer CropScience and heritage companies since 1991 in research and development and market development roles in Canada, and in the Global Agronomic Development and Marketing groups in Germany.


David Hansen is president and CEO of Canterra Seeds. Previously, he was the North Asia Pacific regional manager for Agrotain International. He has also managed the cotton seed business for Delta & Pineland and Monsanto Far East and has served in numerous sales and marketing and management positions with Advanta Seeds and its predecessors.


GERMINATION: What changes have been made to the new Canola Performance Trials format in comparison to the previous Prairie Canola Variety Trial format?

DK: The inclusion of field scale trials has been an important improvement from Monsanto’s perspective. The relative yield differences between canola hybrids can be exaggerated by inter-plot and edge effects in small plot designs, which are not present in field scale trials. Field scale trials are conducted by growers using their equipment and production practices and are as representative of the grower’s reality as possible. Both trial designs have their strengths and weaknesses, but presenting both sources of data to growers provides a broader view of product performance and more information on which to base their upcoming canola purchasing decisions.

Another significant improvement has been the adoption of an auditing process for both small plot and field scale trials. Trials are inspected to ensure they have been conducted fairly and according to protocol, which should give growers further confidence in the data.

CS: Based on what we see, a number of changes were made to better reflect the information desired by the end-users of the information—farmers. The most evident changes to protocol were that varieties were blocked by herbicide systems—so varieties were sprayed with the appropriate herbicide and plots were swathed at the correct stage of maturity, rather than all on the same day. In addition to small plot trials, the program also includes a protocol for strip trial results.

RW: There have been a number of positive changes to the old PCVT format which give growers more confidence in the trial results. Some of the main improvements are having all varieties treated with the appropriate herbicides and also placing more importance in having the varieties in blocks based on maturity. These changes better reflect how growers manage canola production in their fields and produce more reliable results. One other important improvement is that there is a gross revenue calculation done on each of the hybrids which includes any applicable premiums associated with it. With this new information growers can quickly evaluate which hybrid will put more money back into their farm operation. 

AE: There have been two major changes to the performance trial format. First, all hybrids are now evaluated after being sprayed with their respective tolerant herbicides versus utilizing a conventional herbicide program across all hybrids. Second, the field scale trials conducted independently by canola industry companies are presented along with the results of the small plot trials.

GERMINATION: Are you happy with how the new CPT program is working? What feedback have you received from industry/growers?
DK: The 2011 CPT effort certainly had its share of challenges in its first year, due to a late spring implementation and severe weather challenges. Despite the challenges, it was a tremendous effort that delivered valuable data that we believe growers have found helpful.
CS: We were of the belief that the previous PCVT system brought meaningful information to farmers but can now add that the feedback we have received suggests that farmers are satisfied with the upgrades made to the protocol.

RW: Yes, overall we are pleased with how this system is working, from the improvements in the protocols to improvements in participation of the leading seed developers in Canada to grower groups bringing their voice to the table. All these things come together to make these trial results very relevant to canola growers. Growers’ comments are mostly very positive about the 2011 CPTs and believe they are a good step forward. The biggest concern that growers had is that they want to see these results released earlier next year.

AE: In 2011, we were able to incorporate the herbicide systems approach into the small plot research format to provide results with similar quality relative to the historical PCVT results. However, we recognize that providing this quality of data while using different herbicide systems in small plot trials requires a higher degree of trial management to obtain quality results.

We have received feedback that is hard to extract clear information and conclusions within the field scale trial results because there are few common hybrid comparisons across the trials.

DH: Canterra Seeds is pleased to support industry efforts to provide farmers with this canola performance and variety evaluation information. There are aspects of the new CPT that we are very pleased with—for example, the use of the correct herbicide for the system. Grower feedback has been positive, as they appreciate having another source to assist them in making the right canola variety decision for their farm.

GERMINATION: What further changes, if any, need to be made to the CPT system next year?

DK: The most significant change required is the adoption of a common check in the field scale trials so the data can be summarized. It’s not possible to have all entries represented at all field scale locations, but the inclusion of a common comparator will allow growers to make relative comparisons between products. Also, not all seed companies participated in 2011. Full industry participation would strengthen the data set, providing greater value to growers.

CS: The management structure of the program, with its representation from growers and industry, is well positioned to develop policies and protocols that respond to stakeholders’ interests. [We] expect the program will be refined for 2012, based on this year’s experience. Timeliness of the release of results is one area that has come up in discussion.

RW: Other than having the results come out earlier next year the main area that needs improvement is with the large scale CPTs. Large scale protocols from companies need to be more aligned so that there is better consistency in how the trials are run to account for field variability to produce reliable data for growers.

AE: There needs to be more stringent quality control processes, including evaluation of the trials and resulting data set to ensure it meets the quality standards set out in the CPT guidelines. A more structured protocol design for the field scale trials needs to be developed so trial results can be summarized in a more user-friendly manner for growers.  

 DH: There are undoubtedly improvements to the system that can still be made, and Canterra Seeds will be happy to work with the CPT committee on them.

The gross revenue/acre data is important; however, we need to demonstrate to farmers the assumptions that were made to reach this number. Also, it would be helpful for a farmer to be able to alter the revenue calculation based on the practices of his own operation. Another change that would benefit growers is to see a greater correlation between the small plot and the field scale data. Currently it is being presented separately and no comparison has been drawn.

GERMINATION: Are the provincial governments supporting the data? If not, why not, and how can this be remedied?

DK: Provincial crop specialists are members of the CPT governance and technical sub-committees, and have worked hard to get the program off the ground and to implement key improvements for the program’s second year. 

CS: It is our understanding that all of the western provinces are supportive of the data, but this question is best responded to by those governments.

RW: In our interactions yes, the provincial governments are more involved and supportive of the data.

AE: Provincial governments are supporting the data and are even involved in the data tabulation process. From Bayer’s perspective, it is very important that there is both government and grower association participation and support. 

 Julienne Isaacs and Julie McNabb



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