Small Grains Variety Testing Program with Aaron Esser

Contact Information:

Contact Aaron Esser by phone at 509-659-3210 or by email at You can also follow Aaron on Twitter @AaronEsser1.

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Episode Transcription:

[ Music ]

Drew Lyon: Hello, and welcome to the WSU Wheat Beat Podcast. I’m your host, Drew Lyon, and I want to thank you for joining me as we explore the world of small grains production and research at Washington State University. We have weekly discussions with researchers from WSU and the USDA-ARS to provide you with insights into the latest research on wheat and barley production. If you enjoy the WSU Wheat Beat Podcast, do us a favor and subscribe on iTunes or your favorite podcasting app and leave us a review while you’re there so others can find the show too.

[ Music ]

Drew Lyon: My guest is Aaron Esser. Aaron is with WSU extension in Lincoln & Adams Counties. He has been with WSU for 20 years. About 10 years ago, he took over the chair for the WSU Wilke Farm Management Committee. The WSU Wilke Research and Extension Farm is a 340-acre facility on the eastern edge of Davenport, Washington in the intermediate rainfall zone. It’s been in a direct-seed cropping system for 20 years in a variety of rotations. Hello, Aaron.

Aaron Esser: Hello, Drew.

Drew Lyon: As some of our listeners may know, you’ve recently taken on some new responsibilities, taken over for Ryan Higginbotham as director of the Cereal Grain Variety Testing Program. How’s that going?

Aaron Esser: [laughs] It’s — thanks for asking, Drew. It’s going quite well, actually. One of the things that really helps make it go well is the crew that was in place with that program with Vadim and Andrew in place. So the transition there has been pretty smooth, and those two really know what they’re doing. So having those two in place and just carrying on, we’re really keeping it, I guess, for no better terms — I don’t really necessarily like the term “autopilot” — but we have it on autopilot right now.

Drew Lyon: Okay, it’s not like Ryan has left the country. He’s still here. He’s just not with WSU anymore. Do you call upon Ryan at all, or you’ve been able to avoid that so far?

Aaron Esser: Ryan has actually done a nice job of leaving me a pile of notes and sent me a pile of files, and we’ve had a lot of discussions beforehand. We haven’t had too many recently, but he left me a lot of the things with all the details and took care of a lot of the details for the spring locations and things like that — before he left.

Drew Lyon: Okay, good. Can you give us a little overview of the program and how things are progressing so far this spring?

Aaron Esser: I know Ryan’s done a couple of these podcasts a couple, a month or 2 ago, but just kind of an overview of the Variety Testing Program, you know, it’s kind of a monster amongst itself here. When you look at it, between the winter wheat trials, and the spring wheat trials, and the various locations, on the soft white winter wheat side or on the winter wheat side, I guess, we have 24 different locations. On the spring wheat side, we have 18 different locations. And then, barley’s at 16 of those locations as well. So when you look at it and break it across 4 different rainfall zones — actually, 5 if you count irrigated — it gets kind of, I guess takes on a life of its own. Just looking at the varieties themselves, on the winter wheat side, there’s 54 soft white winter wheat lines in the higher rainfall zone, 48 soft white lines in the lower rainfall zone. We break it in between high and low rainfall. And then, both high rainfall and low rainfall both have 18 hard red winter wheat varieties. So when you look at the total of 72 varieties in the high rainfall zone, 60 in the low rainfall zone, you know, a lot of data can start to pile up. On the spring wheat side, we have, I think there’s — I don’t have the exact numbers in front of me — but there’s approximately 24 soft white spring wheat lines and 36 hard red spring wheat lines, and then 24 barley varieties. So when you add everything up, that’s almost 220 different lines that we’re looking at.

Drew Lyon: And you generate- this program generates a lot of data.

Aaron Esser: That’s the part that scares me when all this data starts coming in, Drew. It’s going to be a lot of numbers.

Drew Lyon: Yes, a lot of numbers, and you have to turn them over pretty quickly too.

Aaron Esser: Yes. And I look forward to the challenge.

Drew Lyon: [laughs] So speaking of all this data and getting it turned over quickly so growers have access to it, how do growers go about accessing this information and seeing what you generate in this program?

Aaron Esser: You know, much like anything, the first place, if you want information about wheat production, I would strongly encourage you to go to the Small Grains website, And if you go there, you’ll see the variety, one of the tabs is Variety Selection. And if you go, look at that, we have all our data there, last year’s data, all the archive data, and then we also have the Variety Selection Tool. So you can look at that for your different rainfall zones and what class of wheat you’re looking for, and you, it’ll give you a list of either the best varieties or you can do some different sorting and stuff. If you haven’t looked at that tool, I strongly encourage you to take a look at it, especially now that we’re in the midst of spring seeding. So just going to the website is a great way. We have our Listserv. When the yields and the harvest data starts coming in, we’ll be putting it out on the, on those Listserv’s, so if you have an opportunity to get on the Listserv, please let me know, and we’ll make sure to get you on one of those Listserv’s so you can get the data as it comes in. As quick as we can turn around, we like to get the information out because it’s pretty critical trying to, from harvesting winter wheat to seeding winter wheat and trying to make those decisions, it’s pretty quick and we try to be pretty responsive to that, to those needs.

Drew Lyon: So when does this data start showing the new data? Right now, these sites have populated with previous data. When will the new data start becoming available for growers’ access?

Aaron Esser: Usually, most of it will start becoming available at the time of harvest at each location. You know, there’s some other notes that we’ll be collecting in the meantime, but I’m not sure how, you know, heading dates and things like that, but I’m not going to be on — oh man, we really need to get the heading date of Jasper out to farmers so they can make a good decision. I’m not really concerned about that as much. I really want to get the yield, and protein, and stuff into their hands.

Drew Lyon: So sometime in July, as harvest begins the data will start showing up.

Aaron Esser: Yes. And then, of course, one of the other means to get information is the field days. We have a couple of those lined up.

Drew Lyon: Can you talk a little bit about the field day schedule? There are quite a few field days, actually. That’s going to take up a fair bit of time. When do those start? How do growers find out about when and where those tours are scheduled?

Aaron Esser: Once again, the tour schedule was just posted to the Small Grains website I think a week ago. Just going through the list, there’s 21 different variety plot tours, I think very close to what we had last year. So one of those things that I think is important is to just have an opportunity for growers to come out, look at varieties. At these tours, we’ll have industry there, industry reps, WSU personnel there. The, some of the breeders will be there. Some of the quality people will be there. And it’s not only a great time to just look at a variety and say, wow, I sure like the look of that variety versus the look of that variety, it’s a great opportunity to have some discussion around variety selection and different key characteristics. One of the things I think with extension that probably gets unnoticed or one of the key components that kind of gets pushed to the side is not only taking information from the university and taking it to the people, but taking the needs of the people and figuring out a way to get it back to the university. And I think these tours are a great way for growers to talk about what they need in these cultivars, what’s bothering them or what their issues are, and so WSU and even private industry can work on solutions for their problems. So I think that part’s critical. The tours, the first one is going to be starting on June 6th, starting in the Horse Heavens. I don’t have the exact time on that, but it’s on the website. And if you can’t make that one and all those in between, the last opportunity is going to be on July 6th at Palouse in the afternoon. Once again, I don’t have the time for that, but it’s available.

Drew Lyon: A stretch, well over a month of time from when you first start them to when you wrap them up, huh?

Aaron Esser: Yeah. And there’s one almost every day in between there.

Drew Lyon: Okay. So you were already a pretty busy person before this new responsibility fell on your plate. What can you tell us about — I’m sure you’re interested in when they might be replacing the lead of the variety testing program — when do you think that’ll occur?

Aaron Esser: Well, you know, I’ve made it pretty clear I hope that I will do this on an interim basis for a year. I don’t think for my own sanity and stuff I can do it any more than a year. The last I’ve heard, the latest update a couple weeks ago, is that they were drafting the position description for this. And then, once they get that finalized, then we can, and WSU’s going to take that out and then start looking for potential candidates and stuff. So it is moving along. I know most people always get, you know, the university — I just say, it’s moving along in the university pace, Drew.

Drew Lyon: [laughs] Okay. I understand what that means.

Aaron Esser: So whatever that means to anyone, yes, it’s at a university pace. You know, I really think that we’re going to have some strong applicants for this position. There’s a lot of tremendous opportunities for it beyond just varieties, but really taking it to a new level with some of the agronomy research and stuff. And Ryan Higginbotham started that looking at seeding, some of the trials, not only varieties, but some of the locations, we have different seeding rates. He started implementing that. So not only are we looking at varieties, but things, you know, within varieties, some things to help improve overall production practices. And I think it’s a great jump off for the new guy coming in to really take that and run with it.

Drew Lyon: All right. And so if, again, if people want to get more information on either the variety yield results or the variety tours, Correct?

Aaron Esser: Yeah. And if you’re not getting those emails once, you know, harvest has started coming in and you used to get them in the past, please don’t be afraid to contact me and let me know that, hey, I’m not getting these. I, I’m still trying to figure out this whole system and how it was all put together, so there’s going to be things that fall through the, fall through. So if you thought you got information in the past but you’re not getting it this year, please let me know.

Drew Lyon: And how do people let you know — call or email?

Aaron Esser: If you do, just I can give you my phone number — 509-660-0566 — or just do a Google “Aaron Esser” and it will show up.

Drew Lyon: All right. Thank you very much, Aaron.

Aaron Esser: Thanks, Drew.

[ Music ]

Drew Lyon: Thanks for joining us and listening to the WSU Wheat Beat Podcast. If you like what you hear, you can subscribe on iTunes or your favorite podcasting app so you never miss an episode. And leave us a review while you’re there. If you have questions for us that you’d like to hear addressed on future episodes, please email me at You can find us online at You can also reach out on Facebook and Twitter @WSUSmallGrains. The WSU Wheat Beat Podcast is a production of CAHNRS communications in the College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences at Washington State University. I’m Drew Lyon. We’ll see you next week.

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