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Why change

publication date: Nov 1, 2012

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Every year, Johnny’s introduces hundreds of new products for commercial growers, and this year is no exception. When you receive your 2013 catalog, you will find new varieties of vegetables, herbs, and flowers, several useful new tools and numerous new supplies. Our quest for new products is part of our commitment to working in partnership with our customers to find solutions to common problems and advance the business of market farming.

Why change?
Market farming is like every other business in this rapidly changing world: there’s always something new. Plant breeders develop varieties with better flavor, yield, disease resistance, appearance, or earliness. Researchers find new ways to control pests. Engineers tinker with tools and equipment to build them better. The allied industry is based on the idea that improvements are just waiting to be discovered.

With a constant parade of new products, though, you might feel a little overwhelmed by the choices and wonder which are worth your attention and money. So it makes sense to approach “new and improved” products in a methodical manner. Here’s what we recommend:
First, take a look at this year’s new products and read what they have to offer. Some will jump out immediately as possible purchases, so take notes as you go.

Think about your own particular problems on a crop-by-crop basis. Maybe you’ve had crop failures or poor yields for a certain variety. Or perhaps you grow a crop well but think it’s costing too much to weed or harvest to be profitable. You might want to extend the season of some of your crops. Or you might want to differentiate yourself at market by growing something a bit different. Perhaps it’s time to try something you’ve never grown before. As you assess the past season’s crops, make a list of what you would like to do better.

Prioritize the improvements you’d like to make, placing at the top of the list those that seem to have the most potential to increase your profits.

Finally, go back to the catalog and review product descriptions again with an eye toward meeting the objectives you established for next season. Analyze the cost versus the potential return, and decide which products to include in your budget.

How to introduce new varieties
Much of your success as a market farmer depends on choosing the seed varieties that will perform best in your climate and soil. If you’ve been growing for a long time, you probably have found varieties that do better than others and you have stuck with them. If you’re a newer grower, you may be trying multiple varieties in search of the best performers. In either case, you should take a systematic approach to adopting new varieties by conducting on-farm trials.
Trials run the gamut from rigorous research involving randomized replications to more casual observational trials growing small test plots. Even the most simple trials can be time-consuming, so don’t take on more than you can really handle. It’s better to get a few valid results than have more than you can evaluate. Here are some of the factors to consider in trialing new products:

First, identify your objective in trying a new variety. Would you like a variety that is earlier, a different color, a better yield? It’s okay to have several objectives for a specific crop, but you should think clearly about this, and write down the advantages you hope to gain by growing something new. You need to be able to evaluate a new variety on the traits that will make it more profitable for you.

Next, read variety descriptions carefully to find the traits you seek, and purchase one or more new varieties plus a standard variety you have grown previously. It’s important to have one familiar variety in a trial so you’ll have a basis of comparison; if one of the new varieties fails, you will be able to determine whether it was because of weather or some other environmental problem, rather than the genetics of the new variety.

For the most accurate comparison, treat each variety exactly the same: seed them the same date, use the same potting mix in the greenhouse, plant them outside at the same time and in the same plot. Be consistent with all inputs and practices. Don’t plant a trial variety on the edge of a field, where plants may have different light, water and nutrient availability. The “edge effect” is a well-known phenomenon among vegetable growers, and it can cause plants on the edge of a plot to do either better or worse than those in the interior.

Other critical components of variety trials are labeling and recordkeeping. Use tags in the field to identify varieties, but also draw a map with their locations in case the tags get lost. Keep careful records of planting dates, inputs, rainfall and irrigation, weather events, first harvest and last harvest, yield, and sales revenue.

Once you have a trial established, you can score it at any point that is relevant to you. If you’re looking for earliness, score the varieties early in the season by counting the number of early ripening fruits. If it’s disease resistance you want, wait till later in the season to score the trial. Focus on your desired traits, but also take notes about other characteristics of the plants because they may prove useful later.

If you are thinking of growing something completely new, you have no basis of comparison so the best strategy is to choose several varieties and plant test rows of each. For example, if you are thinking of growing sunflowers to brighten your market stand, read our article “How to choose sunflower varieties” http://www.johnnyseeds.com/t-catalog_extras_flowers.aspx#sunflower then select three or four varieties to grow in a test plot. With luck, all of them will do well and you’ll have plenty of flowers to take to market. But some may be noticeably better than others, and you will know to grow them again next season, possibly as the control group for another trial.

A replicated variety trial is much more complex than the observational trials described above, and beyond the scope of this article. However, there is an excellent publication from the Organic Seed Alliance that explains how to conduct and evaluate replicated trials.http://www.seedalliance.org/download-form-3/
By setting objectives, planning your trials, and following through with evaluations, you will find the new products that truly are going to help you be a better farmer.

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Reprinted from JSS Advantage November 2012


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