Football fans around the country recently watched the Winnipeg Blue Bombers defeat the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in the Grey Cup. Watching the game, I was reminded that for any team to win a championship it takes teamwork, dedication and hard work to be successful. No single player can do it all.
At the Crop Development Centre, we have a team composed of scientists, graduate students, and technical staff. In order to be successful, all members of the team must be focused on the game plan to be successful.
The field we play on is a large 3,000-acre research farm where our researchers conduct trials for plant breeding, agronomy, herbicide research, organic cropping systems research, and much, much more.
Why do I feel like a football coach?
We are constantly surveying the playing field. The farm is composed of about 30 different rotations consisting of 120 different fields. Each rotation is managed separately to best facilitate the field research that is taking place. The weather always plays a large role in how you formulate the game plan.
We have to look down the road at what’s coming. All of our research programs have expanded over the years due to mechanization, computerization, and other emerging technologies. Many of our planters are now driven by GPS auto-steer systems permitting programs to put much more material into the field. Plant breeders use technologies such as genetic markers and genomics to select for traits more precisely and create new varieties. Plant breeding is a numbers game — the more material you can accurately screen for superior traits, the quicker the progress and likelihood of developing improved crop varieties. The best part is getting a sneak peek at what’s coming down the pipeline for farmers.
We constantly have to change plays. Breeder seed production starts while the lines are in the co-op trials. The breeder places lines in the co-op trials to see how they perform under different environmental conditions across Western Canada. However, not every line is successful. As a result, when a line is not advanced, or not supported for registration, a lot of seed produced ends up being discarded. Like football, not every play is successful!
We are always strengthening our team. Every year we strive to improve the team, the field, and the equipment. Staff is constantly training and adapting to take advantage of the latest in technology, and new young players are coming in with fresh, innovative ideas. The “field” is improved by utilizing new expertise and equipment to improve the odds of success. Success has also resulted in the “field” becoming too small. As a result, we are in the process of expanding the farm to facilitate future success. Like any good team, we employ a vast range of talent and resources to ensure we can tackle nearly anything.
We have a lot of fans. The CDC has grown immensely since its inception in 1971 with nearly 500 crop varieties being introduced during that timeframe. It’s gratifying to get calls from producers asking about different agronomic practices or crop varieties. They are trying to better themselves and their operations, and we are recognized as a source that can assist them.
When I started at the CDC 26 years ago, it would take approximately 12 years to develop a crop variety. Today, that same process has been reduced to 6-10 years. With new breeding tools and methodologies, we are hoping to decrease that timeframe and become an even more successful player on the big field that is Canadian agriculture.
The most important part about playing on a winning team is the people and the relationships you build in the process. The CDC is composed of dedicated, focused people who are always striving to improve. I have been extremely fortunate to have played a role in its success.