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Corn study shows benefits of replicated trials

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article image A study by Pacific Seeds reveals the value of choosing varieties based on RFT rather than single year trial data
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A study by leading broadacre seeds company Pacific Seeds reveals that replicated trials are one of the most effective ways to make management decisions on what summer crops to plant in a country with high climate variability season to season.

A team led by Pacific Seeds summer grains agronomist Trevor Philp compared three different maturity corns in two Darling Downs locations over two years utilising a Replicated Farmer Trials (RFT) system. RFT is a summer crop variety testing program launched by the company in 2011-12 to address concerns about the independence of data and improve the accuracy of variety information.

The trial sites were located at Melrose and Pampas, and varieties chosen were PAC 606 (114 CRM), PAC 624 Check (118 CRM), PAC 727 (123 CRM) and a new experimental corn PAC ME 610.

The research found that single year trial data can be misleading, as it describes what has happened in a known environment, not what will happen in the future. According to Mr Philp, only when multiple trial environments and multiple years of data are analysed, growers can begin to make better decisions on selecting specific corn and sorghum hybrids.

The 2012-13 season is a prime example of this, as growers who planted in October had crops that grew in a below average rainfall and above average temperature environment, while growers who planted in December and early January experienced the complete opposite, with cool temperatures and above average rainfall. He explained the difference of a few days can change the environment experienced by a certain hybrid dramatically. This high level of variability makes it very difficult to make management decisions on what hybrid to choose, how much nitrogen to apply and what plant population to go with. 

Mr Philp observes that the adoption of control traffic and zero tillage has taken a great deal of the risk out of modern farming and average yields of both corn and grain sorghum has increased dramatically over the last 10 years. However, the climate variability can still have dramatic effect on the comparable performance of hybrids. For instance, two hybrids planted in the same field at the same time can experience very different growing conditions due to the fact that they have different flowering dates and maturities. Therefore, better decision making can only come from analysing multiple trial environments and multiple years of data. 

The research also revealed that experimental corn PAC ME 610 demonstrated a high level of adaptation and improved yield performance over PAC 624.

Mr Philp said Pacific Seeds’ goal with the RFT system is to give growers and consultants the power to make accurate decisions on hybrid choice. The RFT process enables identification of hybrids that have broad environmental adaptation and those that have specific adaptation to certain situations, so that growers can receive the best possible advice on which hybrid will perform not only on their farm but on a particular field.  

Mr Philp said farmers are becoming very precise in what they do, collecting more and more information on their soils, their topography and the performance of their fields. As weather data becomes more accurate, the matching of soil type and soil water with the right hybrid and plant population will become critical to the farm’s success, he added.

Pacific Seeds plants 30 grain sorghum replicated farmer trials and 30 strip trials per year spanning an area from Clermont in central Queensland to Coolah in southern New South Wales.

Trial results are then independently analysed by the Queensland DPI biometrics group Statistics for the Australian Grain Industry (SAGI) - the group that also analyses and designs the NVT program.

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