Discovering rare gems
At the end of each summer, Sollio Agriculture’s crop improvement breeder, Christian Azar, travels across Québec to observe oat and barley fields. Tablet in hand, he collects thousands of data on the plants in front of him. These notes, along with the harvest analyses, will help him discover rare gems. For the research farm team in Saint-Hyacinthe and the advisors, the goal is the same every year: to provide grain farmers with the most high-performance and consistent seeds.
“It’s a real treasure hunt,” says Christian Azar enthusiastically, returning from Lac-Saint-Jean after an observation period. In three days, he collected nearly 12,000 pieces of data on the appearance, standability, stalk integrity, maturity and pathology of oat plants. To these observations, he will add data collected after the harvest, such as yield, grain density and threshing ease.
“Once we have all the data on hand, 70% to 75% of it ends up in the trash, he says, laughing. Approximately a quarter of the data collected is used to develop next year’s tests. We focus on the most promising varieties.”
According to Azar, who currently works in oat and barley production, the selection process is truly painstaking. “There are an infinite number of genetic crosses,” says Azar. “You need intuition, patience and rigour to develop high-performance cultivars for farmers.”
The same goes for researcher Valérie Chabot, who draws inspiration from searching for reliable and sustainable products. As someone who selects Elite’s spring wheat seeds, she spares no effort in offering increasingly high-performance seeds.
Chabot identifies the cultivars that are most likely to adapt to the Québec climate and production conditions. “We have them shipped here, plant them and carefully observe how they adapt,” she says. “Elite seeds stand out specifically because they’re tried and tested here.”
Lyne Beaumont’s official title is Elite seeds advisor for Sollio Agriculture. Just for fun, she likes to say that she’s a conveyor belt. “My role includes, among other things, observing what’s going on in the field and reporting back to researchers at the research farm. That’s how we ensure that the grain seeds that we’re developing meet farmers’ needs.”
Always in contact with Sollio Agriculture’s agri-advisors and researchers, she is constantly bridging the gap between her office and the field. “I spend a lot of time in the field,” she says. “I use this information to help researchers in their work, but also to train agri-advisors.”
Increasingly high-performance products
Cooperation between field and research has enabled Sollio Agriculture to make great strides in seed production in the past few years. “We have made definite improvements in terms of the standability of oats,” says researcher Christian Azar. “We are extremely proud of that.” According to Azar, yields have also risen sharply in this crop. He mentions in passing that Sollio Agriculture has the largest private improvement program dedicated to oat production in Canada.
With barley, we see major adaptation to climate change, explains the crop improvement expert. “That’s the beauty of our research program,” he says. “From year to year, the cultivars adapt to constantly changing production conditions.”
From her point of view, Valérie Chabot is pleased with the resistance to fusarium head blight that is improving from year to year with Elite seeds. “We’ve really focused on that and it’s starting to pay off,” she says. “There are some very promising strains on the way!”
Sitting in the office of Sollio Agriculture’s research farm in Saint-Hyacinthe, Christian Azar and Valérie Chabot analyze the data that they collected since the beginning of the season. Through their experiments and observations and the support of advisors, they build on their excellence, one cultivar at a time.
- Kalio oats (new product): Exceptionally high-performance oats that are highly tolerant to crown rust
- Akina oats: A variety of white oats with exceptional standability. These white oats can be used for human consumption and are sought after by Quaker Oats.
- Raven wheat: A versatile wheat with a consistent yield in all regions of Québec
- Maida wheat: A resistant wheat with a high protein content that generates excellent yield in early zones (zones 2 and 3)
Contact your agri-advisor to receive a personalized consultation and choose the best cultivar for your management system.