Comparing Crop Varieties: Start Small, Go Slowly

Crop production


HOST -Welcome back to our series celebrating the success of farmer innovation and experimentation around the world. Today, our program focuses on trying out new plant varieties to get the best qualities in your crops – like higher yields, improved taste, colour or cooking qualities. We’re going to hear a story about a farmer who is encouraged to try growing a new variety of rice. To learn more about its qualities, he grows the new variety on test plots, and compares it with his local variety. The story will show that you should start small, and go slowly when you’re trying new farming methods. And record your findings as you go. This is especially important if you are testing a new crop variety. It often takes several years to find out if a new variety is well suited to your growing conditions. New crops may yield well at first, but their yield goes down over time. Or, the new variety might need expensive fertilizers to keep the yields high. Or the yields may be higher, but the colour or taste is not as good. Keeping detailed records will help you to make the best decision about which crops to grow.

Let’s listen to the story now as our farmer discovers that experimenting on test plots over a period of several years is a good idea before you decide to completely substitute one crop variety for another.


Mr. Sandy, the extension officer, is touring the fields belonging to Chandra Mootoo, a local farmer. After inspecting the crops, Mr. Sandi suggests to Chandra that he try a new variety of rice that promises to give much higher yields than the local variety.

MUSIC (3 seconds).

Chandra is interested in Mr. Sandi’s advice about the new rice variety. He talks to his neighbour, Aly, but Aly is not impressed. The last time Aly tried a new variety, it grew poorly, and he lost most of his crop … and his money.

MUSIC (3 seconds).

Chandra goes home and thinks about what Aly said. He doesn’t want to risk his whole crop. But he does want to experiment with the new variety. If it lives up to the promises of the extension officer, then he will make a lot of money. He decides to try the new variety on a small test plot. That way he will not lose everything if the crop fails. He will start small.

MUSIC (3 seconds).

In the first year, Chandra plants the new rice variety in a small test plot. The yield from the new rice variety is high. Higher than the local variety. But still not as high as the extension officer had promised. Chandra decides to mark with chalk on the inside wall of his house how many bags he is harvesting from a plot with the new variety and from a plot the same size of the old variety, because he realizes that he might not remember next year.

MUSIC (3 seconds).

In the second year of his experiment, Chandra is more confident about the new variety. So he decides to increase the planting area from one to two test plots. Again, the yield is higher from the new variety. Again, he records his findings.

MUSIC (3 seconds).

But then, in the third and fourth year of Chandra’s experiments, the rainfall is less than in the previous two years. The harvest from the new variety is very poor. In fact, the new variety yields less than the local rice variety. Fortunately, Chandra only planted two small plots with the new variety.

MUSIC (3 seconds).

After his experiments, Chandra concludes that he was wise to plant the new variety on only a small portion of his land. He decides to go back to growing his local rice variety – it’s dependable and gives consistent yields, even when the rains are poor.

MUSIC (3 seconds).

In these experiments Chandra explored the advantages and disadvantages of a new variety of rice. He also compared the new variety with the local variety; and recorded what he found so he would remember from one year to the next. The kinds of experiments he did are called exploratory and comparative trials. In the end, after five years of experiments, Chandra preferred to grow the local variety, which gave – on average over all the years – lower but more dependable yields.

MUSIC (3 seconds).

How do you decide what varieties of crops to grow? How do YOU compare traditional varieties with new varieties. How do you record what you find? It’s good to try new varieties. But make sure they have already been tested in your region. And, even then, experiment with them for several years on small test plots, before you decide to grow them on a large scale.


Contributed by Jennifer Pittet, Thornbury, Ontario, Canada.

Reviewed by Ann Waters-Bayer and Chesha Wettasinha, ETC Ecoculture, The Netherlands.

Information sources

Farmers changing the face of technology: choices and adaptation of technology options. Cavite, Philippines: International Institute of Rural Reconstruction (IIRR), 1999.