Power Plots

Well-organized seed plots can help growers select the most profitable hybrids and varieties for their farms.
Power Plots
To end up with a healthy, productive crop, you have to start with the right seeds; and while researchers work to continuously create new seed hybrids, growers continue to ask the same question: How will they perform on my farm? Nothing answers that question better than a seed plot.

Even so, growers recently are planting their own seed plots less and less frequently, says Doug Kirkbride, Syngenta field product specialist. A seed plot takes time, and they get trickier to manage as farm equipment gets larger. "Over the last few years, there's an increased reliance on third-party data," he says. That creates an opportunity for retailers to plant their own seed plots and make the results available to their customers. But no matter who is growing the plot, there are some best practices to keep in mind:

Before Planting

  • Begin with the end in mind. "Ask yourself what you want to observe: Yield differences? Disease resistance differences? Seed treatment differences? Then build your trial around that," Kirkbride says. "Often we try to do too many things in one trial. Yes, you can do several things in one trial, but you have to keep the data separate."
  • Focus on uniformity. "Some fields have small areas with variable conditions," says Duane LeFord, Syngenta field science expert. "Then the plants don't get the same treatment. There are some micro-environment issues like that; the one that comes up most frequently is a saturated part of the field, but small areas of lighter soil can also impact data uniformity." Make sure crop rotation, tillage and pesticide/fertilizer application are also all the same. Uniformity creates confidence in trial results, and confidence is what allows you to predict future performance accurately.
  • Keep it focused. "I've seen trials with four entries and 40 entries - but that's on the high side," Kirkbride says. "Statistically, you can't just try to compare entry #1 to entry #40." He recommends breaking large trials into subgroups of about 10 each in your data, based on such factors as plant height or plant maturity.
  • Make a written plan. "When you have a protocol on paper rather than from memory, you're more likely to execute it well," says Mark Hamilton, Syngenta scientist. "Having the plan before rolling the planter out of the shed is an important detail to work out at your desk."
  • Plant at least four rows of each hybrid. "Six or eight is even better," says Chris Cook, Syngenta head of technical training and resources. "There's an edge effect."

During the Season

  • Keep a plot journal. "Especially when you have multiple people involved, it's good to schedule a farm meeting after planting the plot and write down what happened," Kirkbride says.
  • Write down observations during the season. "How is the plant standing? Did it stay intact? How was the early vigor? It's not just about yield, but harvestability," Cook says. Go back throughout the year to get more information.
  • Note entry differences and discuss them. "Become an objective observer," Hamilton says. "Then communicate those product observations to your dealer, your agronomist, your neighbors." Multiyear evaluations are another way to increase the power of the data.

After Harvest

  • When analyzing data, match up in-season notes with yield to help explain some agronomic effects. "Don't ignore your in-season notes and go directly to a yield sort." Hamilton says. "Try sorting by increasing maturity or plant population or weed/insect pressure (or lack of); every entry order sort may reveal hidden trends."
  • Be mindful of making like comparisons. "It's not fair to compare insect-resistant hybrids to non-insect-resistant hybrids," Cook says. "They're different technologies." Also make sure you are comparing similar maturity products.
  • Fill out trial planting forms as completely and as soon as possible. "Any kind of notes and as much information as you can enter are helpful," Cook says. "This exercise provides more ways to cut up that data."
  • Get help with data analysis. Knowing what differences are statistically significant requires some calculation. The iYield system, which is an internal Syngenta program that summarizes plot, results, can help. "Retailers and growers can contact their local Syngenta representative and get reports from the iYield system, with statistically significant differences bolded and underlined," Kirkbride says. "Or they can submit raw data from their own trials to the iYield database for calculation."

Even with interpreted data in hand, individual growers will look at results differently. "Some just care about yield; others want corn that stands like a tree so they can run the combine quickly and get every kernel," Cook says. To help growers make selections, retailers should ask questions and find out what they're looking for.

Whatever the grower's ultimate need, Syngenta will probably be able to provide it. "We have the broadest profile, with herbicides, insecticides, fungicides and genetics all included in the mix," Cook says. "That adds another dimension to seed trials and some of the neat stuff we can help decipher from them. We can actually answer the question, ‘What does it really take to grow a crop?' It's not just, ‘Here's the seed - good luck.'"