Local soybean research changing Prairie's future

February 23, 2021

While our Western Canadian growers and ambassadors are preparing for another promising growing season, our Western Canadian Research Coordinator, Britney Gilson, is getting ready for another year of field research.

For Gilson, research is an integral part of the agriculture industry.
“It means a lot to me,” she says, “having grown up on a farm, I was taught the importance of research. I know how much farmers appreciate and value the research that goes on in their areas.”

As soybean specialty crops gain popularity on the Prairies, it’s increasingly important for us to provide growers with seeds designed to thrive in Western Canada’s environment.

Beginning in May 2020, Gilson has been overseeing four different test plots in Saskatchewan (Marquis, Melfort) and Manitoba (Oakville, Morden). She does the majority of her testing in Oakville and sends each variety to the other sites to test their performance there.

Each variety begins with single plant selection before it’s moved to a nursery. Gilson observes each plant, and if they perform as expected, they’re moved to a larger observation plot. Finally, the best performing plants are moved to a yield trial at one of four Western locations.

The yield trials are completely random, so Gilson can observe how each variety performs in certain environments. Every detail is recorded, so she can know exactly how each seed will perform in the future.

She explains, “We’ll take data on them, so flower colour, hair colour… lodging, maturity dates. Then we look at the seed protein and oil content of each seed. If it looks promising again, we’ll spend the next two years seeding them as breeder ones and breeder twos.”

For us, these trials are necessary to understand the unique environments of Western Canada. Even in the same province, two locations can behave very differently in terms of soil content, precipitation, pest and diseases, and propensity to mold.

“Local research allows us to see how the variety is going to react in the soil condition and climate,” says Gilson. “It also allows the varieties to adapt to the conditions in that area and not at the farmers’ expense.”

Western producers tend to look for varieties with IDC resistance, uniform pods, pod clearance, little to no lodging, high return, and place particular importance on early maturity.

“Manitoba and Saskatchewan have a much shorter growing season compared to places in Southern Ontario and Quebec,” conveys Gilson. “We need our soybeans to mature on time so we can harvest them and get the best possible return.”

She says the soil content is also a major factor in soybean production: “Sandy soils are prone to drought, whereas clay soils can hold water better but can have emergence issues depending on how compact the land is.”

Because conditions across the prairie provinces vary, each soil type must be considered when breeding new varieties.

“Varieties that do not do well in our climate and soils are cut from the program,” explains Gilson. “Varieties that show potential are tested again and again to give them time to adapt to our conditions.”

It’s not always a straightforward job for Gilson, and she’s faced many challenges.
She quotes Roy T. Bennett, saying, “‘When things don’t go your way, remember that every challenge – every adversity – contains within it the seeds of opportunity and growth.’”

“Let’s just say I planted a few seeds last year!” laughs Gilson.

Moving into 2021, she’s looking forward to discovering new methods and using new technologies to improve the process.

“Prograin will be using drones to do the maturity ratings,” shares Gilson. “I’m always so impressed with how far technology has come in the agriculture industry. Not only will this allow the maturity ratings to be more accurate, but I can now take ratings for more than a few locations.”

Gilson says she’s proud to be part of the ag industry. After working on test plots when studying at the University of Manitoba, working with Manitoba Agriculture, and now working with Prograin, she looks forward to making a difference, allowing local farmers to exceed far beyond their expectations.

To see how Gilson manages her test plots, check out her video on our YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0FEyg_YHA9U&ab_channel=PrograinSoya