Who doesn’t want front-row seats to the next big thing? That’s just one of the advantages of being a seed grower.
“I like the aspect of growing anything new. Getting new genetics and seeing what they’re capable of and how much better they can be than what we are growing now is something I really like about seed production,” says Randy Cay, owner and operator of Cay Seeds in Kinistino in northeastern Saskatchewan.
Cay and his team grow and process pedigree barley, wheat, oats, peas, fava beans, and grass seed. They also retail canola seed, inoculant, and crop protection products and offer custom seed treating.
The fourth-generation seed grower says his family has been growing malt barley for seed production for as long as he can remember. Over the years, Cay has witnessed the trend away from six-row varieties. “Growing up, our area was predominantly six-row barley,” he says. “In the last five to 10 years there has been a bigger shift to two-row barley.”
Bigger yields with AAC Synergy
AAC Synergy is an example of a two-row variety that is part of this new era. As a contracted Syngenta cereal seed associate (CSA), Cay has worked with AAC Synergy since 2015. He now grows 300 acres for seed and another 400 acres for malt. With AAC Synergy at field scale, Cay can really see its benefits.
“In my area it’s one of the best varieties we can grow as far as yield is concerned,” he says. Cay is also excited by the market potential for the variety.
“Once a variety gets a foothold, it can take forever to change it,” Cay says, pointing to varieties like CDC Copeland and AC Metcalfe that have been around for decades. “AAC Synergy is right there with its toe in the door. To have some new genetics take over as the more predominant malt barley varieties that consumers are using would be exciting.”
Cay explains that market acceptance is not something that can be taken for granted. Maltsters and brewers are hesitant to try new varieties as they can affect the flavour profile of their products. At the same time, these customers recognize that growers want new genetics with improved agronomic packages. This fine balance doesn’t always make the job easy for a seed grower.
“The biggest challenge with malt barley seed production is selecting the right variety,” Cay says. He adds that patience is a virtue in seed production. “We’ve got to work on these varieties for three years before we ever get them up to the level where we can sell them to the producers. And then, it’s who knows how long after that before you get great acceptance, and in many cases it never even happens.”
Challenge and reward
One thing Cay knows for sure is that while seed growing has its rewards, it’s not for everybody. It’s a job that involves a lot of planning, protocol and paperwork.
“We make plans of what we're seeding three years out so that we can make sure when we get a new variety, we have some land that’s ready for it,” he says. “For example, where I grew AAC Synergy barley this year, I can't grow a new variety of barley on that land for at least two years.” Canola, peas, fava beans and grass seed are an important part of the rotation. “They’re all things that help us get that land ready to switch a variety.”
Liaising with crop inspectors and third-party auditors in the cleaning plant is also part of the job.
The extra work hasn’t stopped Cay from carrying on the family tradition. Getting a sneak peek of what’s coming down the seed genetics pipeline is just part of what makes it all worthwhile.