Cereal Variety Testing Program Updates with Clark Neely

WSU Variety Testing Flags.

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Show Notes & Resources Mentioned:

Contact Information:

For questions or comments, contact Clark Nelly via email at clark.neely@wsu.edu.

Note: The field days have been canceled due to COVID-19 restrictions. We will be recording virtual field days at Lind, the Wilke Farm/Reardan, Dayton, and Pullman.

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Episode Transcription:

Drew Lyon: Hello. 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. In each episode, I speak 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 today is Dr. Clark Neely. Clark is an extension agronomist that was hired in August 2019 by the Crop and Soil Sciences Department. He’s based in Pullman and leads the Cereal Variety Testing Program. He’s originally from South Central, Pennsylvania, where he grew up on a small family farm. He received degrees from Penn State, University of Idaho, and Texas A&M University. He was hired on at Texas A&M after completing his Ph.D. and worked there for six years as the statewide small grains and cool-season oilseed extension specialist before coming to WSU. Hello, Clark.

Dr. Clark Neely: Hi, Drew.

Drew Lyon: So, you’ve been here not quite a year yet, but kind of through several portions of seasons. What have you enjoyed most about the position so far?

Dr. Clark Neely: Just getting to know the area and the farming systems. Getting to visit with growers. I’ve been fortunate, I made it to a few grower meetings this winter. So, just getting to know the growers, getting to know my colleagues here. It’s been a real treat.

Drew Lyon: The Variety Testing Program is a pretty important program. The stakeholders really view it as an important program. What have you seen as the biggest challenges so far in — in managing that program?

Dr. Clark Neely: The sheer size of it. There’s, like, over 25 locations, so just getting — getting to know where the locations are, getting to know the growers. Some of the other challenges I can think of, just kind of navigating the WSU system and getting — getting to know — just developing institutional knowledge, you know, how to put in purchasing, and that sort of thing.

Drew Lyon: Yeah, when I came here in 2012 from the University of Nebraska, every university has a different bureaucratic system. Things that Nebraska really thought was — were important, Washington State doesn’t, and vice versa. So, you have to learn those — those little tricks and that does take a little bit of time.

Dr. Clark Neely: Right.

Drew Lyon:  So, you haven’t been in the position very long, but have you made any changes or updates to the Variety Program, or do you foresee making certain changes going forward?

Dr. Clark Neely: Working on it. Several things, looking to upgrade some equipment. Right now, we don’t — my previous program at A&M we had GPS on our plot tractor, which I think really improves efficiency if we can get it to work. I know there’s been some discussion from other folks who’ve tried it at WSU and there may or may not be issues with, like, reception and getting it to work. I’m optimistic that maybe things have improved over the last 10 years. And, I mean, a lot of these growers are using GPS on their tractors, so even if we can use it at all our locations, I think if we can use it at most of our locations, it’s worth it. So, we’ve already gone through the process and we’ve — we’ve put everything in to purchase a tractor. Once we get that in hand, then we can get Trimble to set up the GPS for us. It’s just — GPS is really handy to have. Like I said, it — it makes planting really efficient, you don’t have to flag stuff out. But then also on the spraying side, if you want to do other agronomic trials where you have to go back on the same plot the following year, you know exactly where the plot is. So, there’s a lot of advantages to it. If everything goes really well, we’ll probably end up buying another tractor and GPS, I think. Because the one we’re buying is — would only be big enough to do, like, alley spraying and — and planting with our conventional drill. But we’d need something bigger for the no-till. Other things, in addition to that, you’re probably going to ask me about the weather stations, I think, which is what I was doing today, out visiting with growers. We’re hoping — there’s — there’s been a lot of talk lately about falling number issues. And that’s one of the big motivating factors in getting more weather stations. I was able to secure funding from the Grain Commission, and between them and ARS pitched in some funding and my program pitched in some funding. We’re going to install an additional 14 weather stations into the AgWeatherNet system. So, that’ll — it’ll benefit my program and it’ll be value-added data, we can add rainfall to go along with the variety trial data. But Camille Steber, who runs all the falling number data, she’s constantly going on the AgWeatherNet system to look for the closest weather data she can find. And there’s still — they have some ideas on what causes falling number issues, but there’s still a lot we don’t know and it can really be — there’s room for improvement. And so having better site-specific weather data will help maybe us pinpoint exactly when falling numbers are an issue and what triggers it. So, that’s the biggest benefit. There’s obviously other secondary benefits, growers can look and see what the wind speed is on their farm. You know, every grower I’ve talked to, I offer them, hey, can we put a weather station on your ground? They’re, like, oh, yeah. Heck, yeah, that’s — that’s great. So —

Drew Lyon: Good.

Dr. Clark Neely: I think there’s also, I don’t have specifics on it, but I think this definitely opens up the door for, like, crop modeling and other types of modeling. Having better weather data is usually a good thing.

Drew Lyon: I know I’ve talked to David Brown with the AgWeatherNet, and we’d like to be able to develop some tools based on growing degree day models of when wheat is. So, like, certain — a lot of pesticides have to go on by certain stages of wheat, and if we could predict that based on — on the weather that’d be very useful. So, I think having weather stations at your sites where you’re maybe collecting some of this staging data might help us accomplish that task.

Dr. Clark Neely: Mm-hmm.

Drew Lyon: I know that you mentioned 25 different sites. These are, you know, kind of historical sites handed over. This is the way it’s been run before. Have you thought about any changes in how many locations you have, or how you’re doing things? It seems like everybody comes in here, Ryan before you, and Stephen Guy, had different approaches to it. [ Clark laughs ] And I’m just wondering whether you have been at it long enough to decide whether you want to continue the way it is currently, or you’re thinking of adding sites, or subtracting sites, or moving sites?

Dr. Clark Neely: I mean, right now I think I for sure want to get through a full season before I formulate any strong opinions one way or another. Right now, I think I will leave things as they are if they seem to be working. But if I see an issue and a need to change, I will.

Drew Lyon: Okay.

Dr. Clark Neely: But if — if something’s working, I don’t see a big reason to change it. And, I mean, so far I think Aaron Esser kept the program running. Andrew kept it running pretty smoothly. So, I think it’s more, yeah, I just need to get more experience under my belt to know what’s working and what’s not.

Drew Lyon: Sounds like a good decision.

Dr. Clark Neely: Yeah.

Drew Lyon: A tool that when I first came I helped get started, but I know is a — is a Variety Selection Tool, and it gets a fair bit of use. But I know you’ve been collecting some new data. And maybe you can tell us a little bit about the tool and what changes, if any, you foresee making to that tool that might be a benefit to growers.

Dr. Clark Neely: Sure. Well, to backtrack a little bit, one of your questions was challenges that I’ve run into so far. One of which was getting access to actually make updates to the website. I’ve just recently gotten that. But now that I have, I’m starting to upload new data, or at least from the previous year. Some of the changes we’re looking to do to that, I’ve added data columns for falling number rating, which is new. We haven’t had that before. Kim Campbell and Camille I think put that together, so a big thanks to them. So, we’ve added that information. And then also we’ve added a 3-year yield average, in addition. Currently, the tool just has a 2-year yield average, but anytime you can get more — more yield — more data is good, to get a better average of yield performance. So, that’s what we’ve added so far. There’s certainly room. We may expand some other parameters in the future. Once that comes to mind would be Hessian Fly. That’s –we already have that up for spring wheat, but if it continues — there seems to be more and more discussion about it affecting winter wheat. And there has been already some screening that U of I has done. And so, if we feel the need that it’s a big enough issue, we can put that data up there too. However, the initial screening only showed maybe like two — two winter varieties that — that had any resistance at all. So, not much out there.

Drew Lyon: Okay. I know when we were putting the tool together, we — we had the discussion, Stephen Guy and I, do you do 2-year or 3-year? And I’m kind of with you, 3 years, the more data you get. The counter-argument to that was that some of these new varieties, you don’t have information on them then, and so then you don’t get a good sort. But if you show both 2 and 3, then it should be —

Dr. Clark Neely: Yeah, you don’t have to pick, you can —

Drew Lyon: Yeah, you can look at both of them, can’t you? I think that’ll be a nice addition. One of the challenges we’re in at this time that we’re all facing is this COVID-19 pandemic. And at this time, we’re recording this in — in April, we don’t know whether we’re going to have summer field days, or not. Could be they can — we can have them. Could be they could be limited to a certain number of people. But let’s say we aren’t able to have summer meetings, do you have an alternative for how people might be able to utilize your variety testing program and get some information on some of these varieties?

Dr. Clark Neely: Yes, the plan is, if we’re not able to hold field days this summer, we will — I will go out to the field and do a recording. We’ll just — we’ll take a lot of photos, a lot of videos, try to keep it interesting. But I will walk through the trial myself and give my normal presentation, so growers can feel like they’re there. Yeah, and hopefully maybe we can add pictures too, like, the variety selection tool. When you go on there, you can actually click on the variety and it’ll take you to that varieties own little page with all its information. And there’s supposed to be a picture there, and I don’t think there is for a lot of them. So, there’s some other little things we can spruce it up to give more visual information.

Drew Lyon: Okay, good. So, if — if these videos are made, accessed through the Small Grains website?

Dr. Clark Neely: Yes.

Drew Lyon: Okay.

Dr. Clark Neely: Yeah, on the variety testing portion of that.

Drew Lyon: Okay, very good. Anything else you want to share with us about the — the Variety Selection Program and where — you know, what information is up there, where growers can go to — to get it?

Dr. Clark Neely: Well, the first thing I almost forgot to mention, I really wanted to point out that we have a new hire, Brandon Gerrish starting March 1st is our new lead technician. Actually, I was really fortunate. He was my previous technician at Texas A&M, and he decided to come up here and join me. So, I’m super excited about that. I think growers will enjoy interacting with him. At least any of our cooperators that interact with our — our techs a lot. So, he has — he worked under me two years down there. I know he’s incredibly reliable, hardworking, very detail-oriented. So, he’s — he’s the perfect person, I think, if I’m going to get GPS equipment set up, he’s very familiar with it, so —

Drew Lyon: Okay.

Dr. Clark Neely: — yeah.

Drew Lyon: So, that’s good, you don’t have — you don’t have that new learning curve on top of all the other learning curves.

Dr. Clark Neely: Right.

Drew Lyon: You don’t have to get used to a new technician running the program.

Dr. Clark Neely: Yeah, yeah. And that was another one of those challenges coming into this job was not having a lead tech when I started and not having some of that institutional knowledge or background knowledge of what we do. So — and I was very fortunate, I got him hired like two weeks before all the social distancing and shutdown, and stuff. But to your other question, if growers or industry want to find more information, they can always go to the smallgrains.wsu.edu website. And they can always email me or call me.

Drew Lyon: And your email address?

Dr. Clark Neely: Is Clark, C-L-A-R-K, dot Neely, N-E-E-L-Y, at wsu.edu.

Drew Lyon: All right. Well, thank you very much, Clark. I enjoyed visiting with you, and I think you’re set up for a great 2020.

Dr. Clark Neely: Hope so.

[ Music ]

Drew Lyon: Thanks for joining us and listening to the WSU Wheat Beat podcast. If you like what you hear don’t forget to subscribe and leave a review on iTunes or your favorite podcasting app. If you have questions or topics, you’d like to hear on future episodes please email me at drew.lyon — that’s lyon@wsu.edu –(drew.lyon@wsu.edu). You can find us online at smallgrains.wsu.edu and on Facebook and Twitter @WSUSmallGrains. The WSU Wheat Beat podcast is a production of CAHNRS Communications and the College of Agricultural, Human and Natural Resource Sciences at Washington State University. I’m Drew Lyon, we’ll see you next time.