If you value third-party, university extension soybean variety trials, it might be time to share why they’re important to you with crop associations, seed companies and university extension. Transformations within the seed industry seem to be leading to changes within state variety trials.

The Illinois soybean variety trials have been in place since the 1970s, and Darin Joos, research agronomist at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, has been a key force in their success. When he joined the program in the mid-1990s, the program was struggling.

“I was a grad student at the U of I in 1994, and Dr. Emerson Nafziger was involved with the Variety Testing Program and invited me to join the program,” Joos explained. “Together, we revitalized the program. We brought corn and soybeans together, added four locations, and the program kind of exploded. It was also around the time Roundup Ready soybeans were entering the market so we had a lot of trials comparing conventional and Roundup Ready varieties.”

He added, “We gained efficiencies over the years with new equipment and technologies and were able to plant a lot of plots in short order. This has helped us manage the trials with one full-time person and some part-time help.”

Over the years, the Illinois Variety Trials have provided the state’s farmers with unbiased, third-party performance evaluations. Seed companies submit varieties for evaluation, paying a fee to help supplement the costs of the program. The Illinois Soybean Association has also designated checkoff dollars to support the trials so that farmers continue reaping the value of unbiased variety data. Recent funding has helped purchase combine technology that can record protein and oil content metrics automatically, streamlining the data collection process so varietal performance results are available to Illinois’ 43,000+ soybean farmers more quickly.

The 2023 crop year is witness to program changes. The number of locations decreased from 12 to eight, and regions were realigned between the corn and soybean trials. Joos will transition off the trials and serve more of an advisory role moving forward.

Part of the reason for fewer locations is the drop in seed company entries, and Joos speculates that recent news of additional seed brand consolidation may further impact the number of variety trial submissions. He’s also noticed less interest in third-party research from seed companies. Some universities, like Purdue University, have discontinued variety trials.

Even so, Joos is hopeful the Illinois Variety Trials will continue for years to come. “Our fall farmer survey revealed many farmers want to keep the variety trials,” Joos said. “They see them as a good source of unbiased, third-party data to help their decisions. We see a lot of activity on the website when the results are released, and it would be nice have a better understanding of when and how they’re using the data so we can continue to deliver what’s important to our state’s farmers.”

The Illinois Soybean Association Agronomy team encourages you to share how you use the variety trial data, what you find most valuable, and what else you’d like to see. Contact a member of the Agronomy team, talk to your Extension agent or leave a comment below.

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About the Author: Jennifer Jones

​As Research Agronomist for the Illinois Soybean Association (ISA), Jennifer Jones works on behalf of Illinois soybean farmers in the development and the implementation of conservation agricultural research and outreach programs. She supports research efforts and helps communicate both in-field and edge-of-field research and validation studies to ISA’s farmer audiences; leads demonstration of conservation agriculture practices; and raises awareness of best management and continuous improvement practices for conservation agriculture in Illinois. Contact Jennifer at jennifer.jones@ilsoy.org.

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