Put good trial data to use

There are many different ways to run a product trial. All of them have their place, but some trials have more direct value to growers. For the past 15 years, Bayer has been running its Demonstration Strip Trial (DST) program to provide local, statistically relevant data to growers.

“Growers want data that will help them make better decisions, on a cropby- crop or field-by-field basis,” says Troy Basaraba, field marketing specialist with Bayer in western Manitoba. “The fact that these are field scale trials makes a big difference to growers as they contain a lot of data points that consistently provide meaningful results.”

Bayer’s DSTs are managed by growers using their own standard farming practices. That means the grower fertilizes, seeds and harvests each DST site using their own equipment and manages the process the same way they would the rest of their farm. The plots are replicated to help provide statistically reliable results.

“Replicating the trials is very important,” says Basaraba. “We try and manage all the variables but if there are big inconsistencies between plots in the same trial, then something is not right. Sometimes there are just slight variations in soil types or other factors not visible to the eye that may affect results,” he explains. “If it isn’t properly replicated, we don’t use that data.”

Basaraba says knowledge is the key driver for choosing to conduct the trials. “It’s one thing to bring products through breeding or through development, and another to show how they perform in different real life conditions,” he says. “We know the products perform through our own research, but DSTs show how they work best depending on what each grower is dealing with.”

“There’s nothing wrong with small plot trials,” adds Tim Gardner, a field marketing specialist with Bayer in northern Saskatchewan. “But field scale trials give you the big picture. We don’t just pick the best piece of land on the farm and run the trial under ideal conditions,” he explains. “Because we don’t mandate what inputs or equipment growers use, both those running the trials and those looking at the trials know that what they are seeing is what they can expect in their own field.”

Bayer ran just over 200 trials over the 2016 growing season, the majority of them focused on the various InVigor hybrids. Since cereal fungicide trials have been a mainstay of the DST program, Bayer’s eight-year cereal fungicide DST database is now the most comprehensive of its type in the industry, so cereal fungicide trials have been scaled back in 2016. They have for the most part been replaced with fungicide DSTs on canola, peas and lentils.

For the past couple of years Bayer’s field marketing specialists have also run an increasing number of InVigor trials that look at harvest management. “We test the different hybrids in our standard varietal trials,” says Gardner. “But with our pod shatter reduction hybrids we also look at harvest — the benefits of swathing versus straight cutting and the yield changes that could happen when the crop is harvested at different times. This helps create a comfort level with new technology and helps build standard practices for straight cutting canola.”

Some DSTs are regionally focused since not all issues affect all areas of the prairies. Leighton Blashko, a Bayer field marketing specialist out of north-central Alberta, is running several clubroot specific DSTs in his region. Clubroot is a serious concern for canola growers in the area, and these trials show how the latest InVigor clubroot resistant hybrids perform against the disease while showcasing their yield potential against competitor hybrids.

“Whenever possible we also like to show growers about what we have coming up in the next growing season,” says Blashko. “For example in our harvest management trials, we not only show how InVigor 140P performs under different harvest scenarios, we are also trialing InVigor L233P, a very early pod shatter reduction hybrid that we plan to bring to market next year.”

Seeing is believing

There are a number of ways that growers use the data collected at the DSTs. Basaraba says summer tours remain a popular way to use the DSTs. “We want to get as many groups out to see the trials as we can,” he says. “It’s one thing to read the yield numbers, but seeing the crop throughout the season can help tell the story behind those numbers.”

Once the data is compiled following harvest, it is presented to retail and grower customers throughout the winter months. Growers also have an interactive option on the Bayer website, where they can filter results by their region or growing concern.

“We say the growers are generating the data and Bayer is the publisher of that data,” says Gardner. “The farmer is involved from day one, and together we record every piece of information from before the crop goes in, through the season and to harvest. It’s all clearly laid out, which offers the checks and balances that make the information more reliable.”

Blashko adds that he always recommends growers look at three years of data when analyzing information from the DSTs. “When you look at several years you get a clearer picture of how the product or practice works under different growing conditions, which makes the information a more useful risk management tool.”

Looking ahead, all three field marketing specialists say they continually look for growers in different geographies to get the most comprehensive results. “We also often work with growers who have participated in the past to help trial new products and farming practices,” says Blashko. “We will continue to meet the needs of growers by conducting trials for new and upcoming products across our portfolio.”