The climate in Canada is drastically different from province to province, and even within the provinces. For this reason, the same crops will perform differently across the country.
What this means for Prograin is if we test a variety in the east, there’s no sure way to know exactly how it’ll grow in the west.
To ensure that growers in Western Canada have access to quality soybean varieties designed to excel in their area, we’re dedicated to ongoing local research across the west.
To further understand the role of research in Western Canada, we sat down with our Research Coordinator, Britney Gilson, to learn more about her process.
Below is a summarized version of the interview.
Where are Prograin’s research sites located?
Prograin has two research sites in Saskatchewan, and four in Manitoba. The sites in Saskatchewan are located in Melfort and Marquis.
“The soil in Melfort is absolutely gorgeous, but their growing days are a little short, unfortunately,” remarks Britney.
The Manitoba sites are in Virden, Boissevain, Oakville and Steinbach.
“Oakville is our home base,” says Britney. “We have all of our trials here, all our populations and nurseries. The first-, second-, and third-year programs are located here.”
An additional IDC trial was completed in Niverville in July; this was Prograin’s first IDC trial in Manitoba.
Britney notes, “We’re definitely going to continue that [IDC] research moving forward, and we’re going to add to it, but that will come in time.”
How do you decide where you’ll set up your research sites?
“We decide on where a site is going to be based on our goal to spread across Manitoba and Saskatchewan as best as we can,” says Britney. “We also want to represent soybean farmland – we want farmers in all areas to want to grow soybeans.”
Aside from our own research sites, we rent land from local farmers, so we can have a proper crop rotation in place.
Why is local research so essential? What are the most valuable things that come out of what you do?
“Everything we do is valuable,” says Britney.
We want to set our growers up for success, and the best way to do that is to join them on the field.
This research allows us to truly understand the conditions Western farmers face, and makes it so we’re able to find varieties that do really well in just a few, or even just one location. On rare occasion, we’ll find varieties that do well in all of our locations; “It’s pretty cool when that does happen,” says Britney.
Once we find varieties that work, we’re able to invite our producers out to the research sites so they can see them in action, and can recommend the best soybeans for their location.
“By having multiple research sites set up, farmers in each area can just come look at our site to see which varieties are doing better in that location, that soil, that climate, all that kind of stuff,” explains Britney.
How do you choose which varieties to grow?
“We work quite closely with our growers to find as many varieties as possible that have the highest potential of doing well in their area,” explains Britney.
Our sales people have regular contact with the farmers in their areas, and quickly become familiar with the conditions of each location; they’re able to provide us with that knowledge so we know which varieties have the best chances of doing well.
Any new varieties we get come from the research station in Quebec; if they’re growing a variety that has an early maturity – much earlier than what grows well in their fields – we’ll take a shot at growing it in the West, although it might take years (up to 8) before it’s ready to go.
How is the success of the sites measured?
While some success is measured by how well new varieties perform during the growing season, we won’t know for sure how well they do until we look at them over winter.
During the growing season, we’ll use a drone to get an idea of the maturity dates. The drone takes pictures every few meters; these pictures are later compiled into one large image that will show us the maturity dates based on the colour of the crops.
All harvests are done with a Wintersteiger combine, attached to which is a Harvest Master, a system that calculates the weight and moisture of the crop as it’s harvested. The weight and the moisture of each crop at harvest are used to determine their success.
Over winter, we go through each seed weight and other characteristics so we have a perfectly clear idea of their quality. Varieties that perform well will move on, and ones that don’t are cut.
Local research is an extensive process, and can be time-consuming. However, by localizing our varieties, we’re setting our farmers up for success.
Almost every farmer will have different growing conditions, meaning it’s essential for us to find varieties that work for every soil, every climate, and every growing season.
As long as Western Canadian producers continue to grow our soybeans, we’ll continue to be out in the field finding the perfect varieties for everyone.