State's performance trial plots run into same challenges as farmers in 2019 - weather.

Carol Spaeth-Bauer
Wisconsin State Farmer
Harvesting performance trial plots conducted by the Extension Service and the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences at the University of Wisconsin – Madison was a challenge this year - just like it was for farmers across the state.

As one can imagine, the same weather challenges faced by farmers across Wisconsin plagued the performance trial plots conducted by the Extension Service and the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences at the University of Wisconsin – Madison. There were problems getting some sites planted and harvested especially in northeastern Wisconsin. 

"It was a very challenging year from a weather perspective," said Joe Lauer, Extension corn agronomist. "We were challenged like farmers with the weather, but we were able to get everything harvested and the results out in a timely manner."

Every year the Madison College of Agricultural and Life Sciences conduct performance trials on corn, soybeans, oats and barley to provide data producers need to determine which seed varieties will work best for their business. 


According to USDA-NASS data, 2019 was the slowest planting season for farmers since records were initiated and kept beginning in 1979. 

About 500 corn hybrids were tested in the corn hybrid performance trials, according to Lauer. Most trial plots were established by early May, except for sites in northeastern Wisconsin. Stand establishment was good to excellent at all locations, except Hancock. Pollination conditions were above average and ear size was longer than normal, according to the variety trial results.  

Late planted corn resulting in reduced production worried producers in 2019.

Lauer reported "very good yields" at some locations. Montfort, Arlington and Chippewa Falls were high yielding, Lauer said.

Storms in mid-July caused significant lodging at three locations, Monford, Galesville and Arlington. "That’s usually indicative of the event, but also high yield as well," Lauer said.

Additionally, there was significant green-snap at the Coleman test site. In northeastern Wisconsin, some flooding and standing water was observed in the plots and surrounding area.

The fall killing frost was later than normal and an exceptionally cool and wet fall made harvest difficult and slower than normal - the same conditions faced by farmers across the state. Grain moisture was higher than normal.

Lauer said there was little disease and insect pressure observed in most trials this year. 

"Farmers are experiencing some mold issues, but we did not really see a lot of disease type pressure within the plots," said Lauer. "Usually we have something rotate through — a few years ago it was tar spot — this year there was really nothing."

Lauer attributed the lack of diseases in the trials to the cool weather this growing season.

Overall, through the years of the Corn Hybrid Performance Trials, Lauer said the "bioengineered corn hybrids that have been developed by many companies have been very good performing."

"They are everything that the companies say they are and because of that, I just expect more of these bioengineered traits to be coming along in the future; but they really do perform well," Lauer added. 


The same weather challenges were faced with the soybean performance trials, which resulted in an 11% decrease in yield compared to 2018 results. Only three out of 15 sites had equal to or greater than yield than in 2018.

"What that tells us is that on average, if you use our variety trials as a proxy for the state, yields are going to be down around 11%," explained Extension Service soybean and small grains specialist Shawn Conley. "Basically we had the same fight getting the crop in and getting it out as most farmers did, so I think we paralleled track with them pretty closely."

Soybean yields were down across the state and at Wisconsin performance variety test plots.

On the flip side though, highlights from the trial results showed that different technologies for growers didn't affect yield.

"What that means for farmers is that they can go with whatever platform they want to go with to manage weeds and there really is — at least in our trials — no yield differences among those traits, so that’s good news," Conley said. 

Insect pests "were pretty quiet," among soybean trials, said Conley. There was some white mold and some sudden death syndrome. But the biggest pest among the soybean trials was water hemp. 

"Our soybeans were planted late, didn’t canopy very quickly or didn’t canopy at all, then we had all the rainfall," Conley said. "We had a challenge managing water hemp. We saw a lot of combines out there spreading water hemp seeds as they are basically harvesting their soybeans."

Looking at soybean pest challenges for next year, Conley said producers should have "an aggressive strategy for managing water hemp in 2020 because there is going to be a lot of weed seeds out there because there was lot of weed seed production this year."

The traits in the performance variety trials all performed well, "which is good because those are the traits we’re going to be using to manage water hemp which is going to be a challenge," said Conley.

Based on how much tillage was done this year, the amount of rutting in fields and how saturated everything is this winter, Conley 'has a strong feeling it’s going to be a late spring again next year'. "I hope I’m wrong, but everything is lining up to be a tough spring," he said.

Conley urges producers to use the trials to help with variety selection for the upcoming growing season.

"Pick those varieties that yield well because we can see as much as a 20 bushel yield difference between the highest yielding variety and the lowest yielding variety in our trials," said Conley. "So just use our trials and use other data to really pick those winners because we’re going to need all the help we can get next year."

Oats, barley

Varieties in the oats and barley performance tests were selected based on current demand, availability, and adaptation to Wisconsin’s climate. Tests were conducted at eight locations during the 2019 growing season using conventional tillage practices, according to trial results.

Plots were harvested and threshed with a combine harvester in Madison, Arlington, Chilton, Antigo, and Sturgeon Bay. Seed was dried and later cleaned. The other locations harvested bundles of plants that were dried and threshed. 

Variety selection is the most important factor to consider in maximizing winter wheat yield and profitability.

Winter wheat

Winter wheat performance trials were conducted at four locations in Wisconsin: Arlington, Chilton, Fond du Lac and Sharon. Trials include released varieties, experimental lines from University breeding programs and lines from private seed companies.

The major disease statewide for winter wheat was Fusarium head blight (FHB) caused by Fusarium graminearum, according to trial results. It was found in many fields throughout the state, with incidence and severity depending on variety and location. 

Varieties with genetic resistance to the disease performed well, especially at the Sharon and Arlington variety trial locations. There was less FHB at the Fond du Lac and Chilton locations compared to Sharon and Arlington, but could easily be found in some plots, according to the trial results. 

Stripe rust was found at the Sharon location and the Fond du Lac locations at extremely low levels, while tan spot, spot blotch, and leaf rust were present in low levels to moderate levels in some fields throughout the state.

As with any crop, variety selection is the most important factor to consider in maximizing winter wheat yield and profitability, the test results stress. Since no variety is ideal for every location, producers need to understand the crop environment and pest complex that affects their specific region to maximize yield.

Carol Spaeth-Bauer at 262-875-9490 or Follow her on Twitter at cspaethbauer or Facebook at