OSA, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, eOrganic, and the Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service (MOSES) are proud to announce the release of a new publication, The Grower’s Guide to Conducting On-farm Variety Trials, to help farmers manage risk by identifying crop varieties that are optimal for their production systems and markets. The publication is part of a larger project that includes webinars, workshops, and an online tool for planning and managing on-farm trials.
The new guide serves as a comprehensive update to OSA’s On-farm Variety Trials: A Guide for Organic Vegetable, Herb, and Flower Producers, published in 2007. The new version just released includes updated instruction for conducting simple yet scientific variety trials, including new guidance for grain growers and certified organic operations. Readers will find scientific principles presented in an accessible way, and will be walked though the process of planning, implementing, evaluating, and interpreting a variety trial.
“As an organic farmer who has always had a strong interest in trialing new varieties, I wish I would have had this guide when I first started farming,” says Kat Becker of Cattail Organics in Athens, Wisconsin. “This guide has what novice and expert farmers need for planning trials. It provides a process, key questions, and basic scientific approaches to make your time with trials worthwhile for your specific farm, labor arrangements, and interests.”
The new guide is useful for farmers, but also research, extension, and non-profit programs interested in training farmers as co-researchers.
“I have been recommending the first edition of this guide to farmers for many years and look forward to using this updated version in my extension programs in the Upper Midwest,” says Julie Dawson, assistant professor in the Department of Horticulture at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “We’ve seen very strong farmer interest in on-farm variety trialing and this will be an extremely useful
resource.” Certified organic farmers are required to use organic seed when commercially available. As the supply of organic seed catches up to meet full demand, conducting variety trials is a way for growers to identify organic varieties that perform as well, if not better, than non-organic equivalents. The new guide includes the perspective of certifiers to help farmers approach variety trials as a tool for better meeting this regulatory requirement.
Harriet Behar, who worked as an organic inspector for more than 25 years and is now a member of the NOP’s National Organic Standards board, says that while the organic regulations require organic seed be used when available, organic farmers gain so much more than just meeting the regulation when conducting variety trials.
“Learning which traits are most important for your climate, soils, and markets helps to build resiliency within any farming system, and adds production and economic efficiencies for long-term sustainability,” Behar says. “Performing seed trials also adds a layer of fun and discovery to the daily chores on the farm.”
The full guide can be downloaded here.
In addition to the guide, project partners have developed the Variety Trial Tool, an online resource to make it easier for farmers and researchers to plan trials and manage data. The website allows users to plan a trial, create data sheets and maps, visualize trial results, and share results with others.
There will also be a two-part eOrganic webinar series this spring focused on conducting variety trials. The dates are March 20th and April 11th, and interested participants can register here.
Finally, this summer, OSA and MOSES will host four on-farm workshops throughout the Midwest. The dates and locations are as follows:
- June 28, Westboro, WI (crop: broccoli)
- August 7, Delano, MN (crop: kale)
- Early July (TBD), Atlanta, IL (crop: potatoes)
- Early July (TBD), Janesville, WI (crop: food-grade corn)
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The variety trial guide and online tools were funded in partnership by USDA, Risk Management Agency, under award number RM17RMEPP522C027.