Variety trials are basically an experiment that we conduct in the garden to compare different varieties of a crop to see how they grow under the same conditions. Recently we planted 30 plants each of 25 different types of Butter Lettuce, then planted them in a block in the field. Our goal is to learn the following:
• Which Matures quickest? Or Slowest?
• Which Tastes the best?
• Which variety bolts soonest? Or the latest?
• Visual Appeal
• Disease resistance
• Size and Weight
In order to learn all that there is to know about any given plant species, it is really helpful to grow as many varieties of a wide diversity of plant categories, ideally in different seasons and/or climates to gain a broad understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of a given variety. We typically will score a trial on a 1-9 scale (with 1 being best) on each trait that we are trialing. This data helps inform what varieties we sell and those that we may not chose to grow in favor of a superior strain.
The data gleaned from performing on-farm variety trials also helps us to determine if further breeding and selection work is warranted. Plant breeding requires prolonged time and effort, so if a superior variety already exists then it is prudent to put in the due diligence to learn the full breadth of variability in a given crop type.
Every year we perform 3 or 4 extensive variety trials on our home farm here in SW Oregon as a fundamental principle of our seed business is that we have to be able to grow the crop here in order to sell seed with our full integrity behind it. For instance, we have not had much success with growing okra here so we are doing an okra trial this summer to learn more about the diversity and characteristics of that species (stay tuned for a report) Most seed companies do not do this work. Those that do sell better seed. Over time our home farm encompasses more and more research and development work such as variety trials, selection, and plant breeding.
If this topic is intriguing to you then perhaps you may be interested in checking out the online source of organic variety trials: eOrganic. Click HERE for a link to university vegetable variety trials