Farmers across the Midwest often turn to state crop performance testing programs: 1) to determine how their results of one year compare to what state university variety trials show, 2) to investigate finding new seed to replace varieties that didn’t perform up to hopes, 3) to select a seed appropriate for using with a change in seeding, pesticide and/or tillage practices.

Farmers always want unbiased, local sources of information to go along with their own farm experiences. Sometimes it can be ag retailer trials, which can be done in an unbiased manner.

One state example of providing farmers with local and unbiased yield results on seed varieties is the South Dakota State University Crop Performance Testing program. A cooperative effort between SDSU Extension and the SDSU Experiment Station, 652 varieties or hybrids from 9 different crops and 63 public or private entities were tested in field trials throughout South Dakota in 2013.

"Although seed companies run their own seed trials throughout the state, this program acts as an unbiased third-party to provide additional information to South Dakota farmers," said Nathan Mueller, SDSU Extension agronomist.

The nine crops annually tested in the program are corn, soybeans, spring wheat, winter wheat, oats, field peas, sorghum, sunflower, and flax. Trials are set up in fields across the state to test seed performance locally so farmers can get a clear picture of how varieties perform in their soil type and growing conditions.

"The environment into which a seed is planted has as much to do with production as anything," said Randy Englund, executive director of the South Dakota Wheat Commission. "Our growers need to see how a seed will perform locally and base their purchasing decisions on that—not how it performed in Kansas."

Mueller and his team ensure that all seed varieties are treated the same. The test plots are put in the middle of cooperator farmers’ fields; SDSU Crop Performance Testing staff plant all the plots using the same equipment.

Because the plots are in the middle of a farmer's field, it receives the same treatment as the rest of the crop—the same fertility plan, herbicides and pesticides. Cooperator farmers keep record of their management practices and share those.

Trials are also conducted on three SDSU Research Stations in eastern South Dakota.

Seed varieties or hybrids tested in the trial are sent in by private as well as public seed providers. In 2013 more than 63 private seed brands, distributors, and land-grant institutions enrolled their seed in the testing. Each corn, soybean, sunflower, spring wheat, winter wheat variety entered in the performance testing has an entrance fee paid by the participating companies to help cover costs of the program.

As harvest results came in this fall, yield results from each variety and test plot were posted on for the public to view.

South Dakota is not the only state operating a performance testing program, but support for keeping these programs is needed more than ever.