Get the most out of your plot tours 

Farmers will be or have been asked to visit many plot tours this summer. How should they decide which tours to visit?

By John Dietz

Summer tours are plentiful for farmers on the southern Prairies, including soybean growers. If you farm in Manitoba, there should be one tour of soybeans within a half-hour drive and probably several within an hour of home, sometime in July, August, or even early September.

Why bother? How to find, how to choose, and what to look for?

According to agronomists, there are about 64 soybean varieties in demonstrations or testing programs this summer, and generally there are two types or classes of tours – public not-for-profit and private for-profit industry.

On the public side, emphasis is on research.

On the private side, emphasis is on comparisons of the proprietary lines either released recently or approaching release.

Possibly the biggest single event of the summer is the Crop Diagnostic School at Carman, says Dennis Lange, MAFRD pulse specialist, Altona.

“It’s more than a field tour. It’s a full day of growers and industry getting together to learn about things like crops, fertility, insects, and insect control. They see some of the research that’s going on and things we’ve goofed up purposely so farmers don’t!” says Lange.

Next in line is the Manitoba Pulse and Soybean Growers Smart Day 2017, July 19 in Portage. Previously, it has been held in Carman.

It’s a full-day educational event for farmers and agronomists to sharpen their soybean management skills. It has opportunities to tour research plots and learn how to apply results. Expect interaction with researchers and production specialists.

Crop diversification centres at Carberry, Roblin, Arborg, and Melita all have soybeans in the research plots and at least one tour for growers in July. These sites are doing active research, so the plots are mostly small and replicated to provide more reliable results – but they’re not geared to comparing varieties.

The private tours, by companies that sell seed, or their distributors, are the places to see first-hand side-by-side performance comparisons on a variety basis.

“A lot of companies that sell seed have their own plot tours. Those tours help promote their own varieties and show some of the things they are working with. They may not have the resources for a full scale research trial, but are more there to show the varieties that you may want to grow next year,” he says.

How to find

To search, you could start here, at the website for Manitoba Agriculture Food and Rural Development (MAFRD) and then look for Upcoming Events.

The short calendar right now (mid-June) will take you to the option for attending Crop Diagnostic School at Carman on July 4-6 (fully booked already) or on July 11-13 (spots available).

You could read the Coming Events list in the Manitoba Cooperator, read posters at the elevator, at the co-op, or the local farm supply store, or go to the website for your favourite seed supplier or even the Post Office to see flyers about coming tours.

“Usually about ten companies put soybean lines into the McVET trials. Those parent companies have distributors located all over the province, and some have their own tours,” says Lange.

How to decide

“A lot of tours are going on. Look for the ones that might give you the most bang for your buck,” Lange says.

If an agenda is posted for a tour, that may help in the decision.

If the tour supports a local dealer where you have connections, it may be important to take that tour just for good will or for reference in mid-winter when you go in to talk about seeding plans.

Sometimes events conflict, with two good tours at the same time or with field operations that can’t be delayed.

Sometimes tours “pop up” in late August or early September with little notice. Those may be excellent, if the opportunity comes along.

Lange explains, “In mid-summer, a lot of soybeans look the same. The differences start showing in late August. Then, you can actually see differences in maturity.”

How to benefit most

For most tour situations, he suggests, it’s more important to listen to the speakers than to look at the plants. If a speaker points out details, it may be helpful to take a picture or write a note to yourself.

On the research side, Lange says listening first is a good way to learn what’s going on, and to get up to date. What you observe yourself in summer may greatly enhance what you learn later at winter meetings.

When you go on a tour, it’s good to go with a friend and to be prepared to ask questions. Speakers at these events encourage interaction, and questions benefit others who are listening.

One of the big questions for most growers this winter will be whether to grow one of the new Roundup Ready 2 Xtend® varieties of soybeans. About half of the varieties for next year, it appears, will be dicamba-tolerant.

“This year we have those varieties in our soybean evaluation trials,” Lange says. “It’s the first year they are widespread in Manitoba, and that’s going to be a big discussion point. It’s not just a variety, it’s a technology. Growers have to make decisions based on needs they have for that new technology.”