Choosing the right variety


Sometimes it’s tough to be a kid in a candy store – all those different flavors and you have to make a choice. Which one do you pick, and what if you don’t like it?

Producers can be faced with the same dilemma when trying to decide on a new crop variety.

Not all varieties are created equal, and they weren’t intended to be. Some varieties have improved agronomic characteristics. Others offer advantages for the miller, maltster or crusher. And some carry benefits that the consumer wants – like better tasting beer or healthier bread.


The decision doesn’t have to be daunting. It’s a matter of knowing what you want, whether it’s improved agronomics, access to new markets, or both.

If you want to get into the malting market, you can ignore the feed barley varieties. If you’d like to produce for that new ethanol plant, you’re looking for a variety with high starch content and you can rule out the others. Selling into an identity preserved market? The end user may make the variety choices for you.

You can use the same process on the production side. Too often, a decision to grow a new variety is based on the fact that it yields two or three per cent better than the variety it will replace. But if that translates into only another half bushel per acre, you should consider other factors.
If you’re into organic farming, the priority may be varieties with improved disease and insect resistance packages, since pesticides are not allowed. If your land doesn’t drain well in the spring and causes late seeding, an early maturing variety might be more appropriate.
It’s all about knowing your own farm and management practices. Answering a few questions can narrow the choices pretty quickly:

– what markets do you want to access?

– where will the crop be located, and what does that mean for disease pressure, moisture levels, previous crop and chemical residue?

– do you direct seed or straight cut the crop? Those factors have a direct bearing on the need for improved lodging resistance, shattering ability, maturity and disease resistance.

– what about fertilizer? Higher nutrient levels may result in more yield, but also risk higher potential for lodging.

Just because a variety is good for your neighbor doesn’t mean it’s a fit for your farm. Each field and farm is different and no one knows yours better than you. Once you’ve decided what’s most important for your operation, you can narrow your choices to varieties that offer improvements in those areas.


After you decide what you want – or don’t need – you can compare the variety information in your provincial Seed Guide. It contains data on new varieties and how they perform under different field conditions. The data doesn’t offer a guarantee. It provides guidelines about how varieties performed in various areas, compared to a standard “check” variety. That’s why multiple test years are important.

Someone else who has been “testing” that new variety for a long time is your local seed grower. He’s had experience with it for several years already, and knows how it works in your neighborhood.

How do you know when it’s time to change varieties?

When there have been significant advances in the traits you want to improve.
There aren’t too many varieties – just a lot more options that were developed to help you get the best return on your investment.

Being a kid in a candy store may not be so tough after all.