DSTs let farmers see new products in action

Early adopters — those among the first to use a new product or technology — help trial new things, be it a smartphone or piece of software, often before they are available to the general public. In agriculture, one way growers can be among the first to see a new product or technology in action is through participation in demonstration strip trials or DSTs.

“We’ve been doing Bayer demonstration strip trial plots for more than 10 years, mostly looking at new InVigor canola hybrids and how they compare to other varieties that are currently available,” says Shelby Reichel, who farms, together with his two sons, west of Trochu, AB. “We learn a lot — not just about how these different varieties perform, but also how they perform specifically under the way we operate. ”

Bayer has been running InVigor DSTs for almost 20 years. The company mainly looks at hybrid performance and, in recent years, has trialled different harvesting methods. In addition to InVigor trials, Bayer also conducts fungicide trials across different crops. Each trial is managed by a grower co-operator, together with a local field marketing specialist, and conducted under that grower’s particular farming conditions.

Lee Crosson has participated in seed treatment, fungicide and variety trials.  “We’ve always taken part in research plots as we want to see first-hand how new varieties work on our farm,” says Crosson, a seed grower near Welwyn, SK. “There is a lot of information out there but nothing is as valuable as the information you gather from your own farm. ”

Every year, Joe Von Freier, who farms near Wetaskawin, AB, conducts plot trials for numerous variety and crop protection products. “Every variety performs differently depending on where you grow it,” says Von Freier. “Seeing how each performs not only in our general soil type, but in our own specific soil is great information to have. ” And, through working with different companies, he learns how the different products and varieties should best be used.

Every winter, all three growers are approached by their local Bayer representative and, together, they pick out a 20-acre piece of land that meets the canola variety trial requirements. The piece of land needs to be uniform and fairly level. It should also be easy to access as people often come to tour the trials in action. Variety trials are made up of eight to 10, 500 ft.  long strips seeded side-by-side. Each variety has replicated strips for statistical relevance.

“Once we have the piece of land, together with Bayer we set up the plots and seed using our own equipment,” says Reichel.  “Our replicated strip is 10 swaths away from the first strip. We work together to calibrate, seed and then clean the seeder in between each strip. This part can take a while, but we work together to be as quick as possible. ”

Von Freier says for variety trials, all the seed is provided so his investment is primarily in equipment and time, and that’s mostly at the beginning and the end of the season. He says Bayer usually brings a summer student to help, so there are three of them seeding the plots.

Once the trial is seeded, Bayer monitors the crop throughout the growing season.  Because of the narrow width of each strip and the fact that weed control is system dependent, Bayer brings a small plot sprayer out to apply different herbicides to the canola systems. Fungicides are applied across the entire trial site by the cooperator grower.

During the summer, DST locations are made known to local growers who can come by and see the results for themselves, or take part in a formal tour. Crosson gets a fair number of visitors to his trial plots each year, something he is very comfortable with. “We aren’t trying to hide anything and as seed growers, it’s nice to be able to show off what we are doing that season and what we could be growing in coming seasons,” he says. “We plan to keep running trials and bringing people to the farm. ”

At the end of the season, each grower cooperator works with Bayer to determine the best time to harvest. In the past three or four years, Reichel has made the switch to straight cutting canola, so he’s mainly been running trials with shatter resistant hybrids and straight cutting them for some good results.

“Nobody likes to waste time if they don’t have to, and straight cutting canola is a real time saver,” he says. “It is quicker to spray than it is to swath, and we spray every acre before harvest. We get a much more uniform crop to harvest if we delay it a bit to straight cut. It’s also easier to manage trash when we straight cut. ”

This past year, Reichel trialled InVigor L255PC, which is Bayer’s first clubroot resistant pod shatter hybrid. While he is fortunate that clubroot is not a concern in his region, pod shatter resistance has offered him unforeseen benefits. “When we started trialling pod shatter hybrids we were hopeful that they were less susceptible to pod drop and shatter due to the wind, and they were definitely that,” he says. “But we also have a large population of deer that move around our farm. They can do a lot of damage to the crop and these pod shatter hybrids were less susceptible to damage from animals as well. ”

Von Freier does not like to spray before harvesting, so once he and his field representative decide it’s time to harvest, they are usually out in the field within five days. As he both swaths and straight cuts on his farm, either method can be used, depending on the trial.

“In our own fields, straight cutting is good because you get that timing flexibility and the kernels tend to be blacker and plumper,” says Von Freier. “But we usually use a combination of tools. If I have the time I might swath, then straight cut.  Combining is the last thing we do. Having that flexibility means you aren’t pushing your dates too close to winter.”

Even for early adopters, the technology they trial is not always immediately used on their farms. Von Freier sometimes keeps the information he learns in his back pocket so he can solve looming concerns before they have a big impact on his operation.

We have a four-year rotation so we have been very fortunate in terms of some of the disease problems some of our neighbours have had to deal with, especially with clubroot,” he explains. “By trialling varieties with resistant traits or different fungicides we learn how these tools will work if we need them down the road, and know we will still have good yield potential. Running trials helps us make decisions today and down the road. ”

Trials help build buzz before new product launch

While a lot of internal research goes into bringing a new product to market, the uncertainty around regulatory timing means public demonstration strip trials tend to happen after a product has been approved and available for purchase.

One exception is new Olympus herbicide. Bayer received registration earlier than expected, which allowed it to conduct demonstration strip trials a season ahead of the product launch.

“In many ways this is how we’d prefer to launch a product so people can see how it works under a variety of growing conditions before making a purchasing decision,” says Tim Gardner, senior field marketing specialist with Bayer CropScience. “We will set up demonstration strip trials this summer and do a graduated introduction to how this product works before we make it available to growers in the 2019 growing season. ”

Olympus is a unique piece of chemistry for Bayer. It’s a pre-seed herbicide used in combination with glyphosate, to target foxtail barley as part of an integrated, seasonlong weed control plan. Foxtail barley has been identified as a significant problem in 16 per cent of prairie wheat fields.

“Foxtail barley is a perimeter weed that is definitely on growers’ radar,” says Gardner.  “It is a bunchy weed that overwinters well and its density is creeping up. It needs to be beaten down throughout the season with a variety of measures if you want to get control over it before the next growing season,” he adds. “Olympus will be of particular interest to growers who have this specific need. ”

Gardner is currently in the process of setting up trials with growers across the prairies.  Bayer plans to run up to 200 trials over the 2018 growing season. The trials will have a simple protocol: 80-acre side-by-sides comparing with glyphosate alone. Once the protocol is established, Gardner says he’ll leave it up to territory sales managers to work with local growers to set up the trials. Growers will be able to see how the product helps against their local weed concerns, depending on their region.

Olympus also has incremental control for wild oats and works well to control downy and Japanese bromes. “It’s nice that we have a good controlled launch so we can show growers how this product works as part of an integrated weed management system,” says Gardner. “Through our field marketing trials we know what this product is capable of, but trial work in real-world conditions under a number of different scenarios will help get growers excited about it. It’s a win-win for both us and our customers. ” — Jennifer Barber PHOTO: bayer cropscience technology.