The National Plant Trialing Program Puts All The Plants In One Basket

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The National Plant Trialing Program website

How many times have you discussed great ideas — ideas that make sense, ideas that would benefit your company or others — but don’t quite get around to using them? Time, money and distractions all conspire to derail idea implementation until finally, with sufficient prodding and poking, the idea begins to take shape.
The idea, here, is the National Plant Trialing Program, a simple commonsense approach to trialing plants that should have been implemented years ago.  And like the little engine that could, the idea is starting to build steam.

The concept is simple. New plants from all the world’s breeders are trialed in numerous locations around the U.S. and Canada. Many (but not all) of the trialing sites report their data on websites, blogs or in print. It is difficult — if not impossible — however, for breeders and others to gather all the data together and assess and evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of their introductions in various parts of the country. The National Plant Trialing Program seeks to solve these problems.

The idea took form. Breeders and trial sites were approached about participating in the program. Those who agreed have been gathered under one umbrella. A website (NationalTrials.com) was created on a membership-only basis, so trial sites can enter data on the plants they received from breeders. Now when someone searches for a variety, data on a particular geranium or petunia cultivar from Florida to Michigan, all appear in one place.

The program has value for breeders. It allows the breeders to fine-tune their products and have real, independent data to help them market plants on a regional, not just a national, platform. In a perfect world, easy access to a plant’s performance under different weather locales would allow companies to breed for characteristics they might not otherwise see in data spread out everywhere. The trial grounds will be on notice that cultivars must be grown with certain standards, evaluated over the season in a standard manner and appear on the website by a certain time.

The program is a work in progress. There is still a lot missing. The year 2012 was the initial trial of the program, and it was not without potholes and hiccups. Breeders and trial gardens both have to buy into the concept seriously, not just give lip service. The money for the project is presently the responsibility of the breeders, and if they are not satisfied, things will change. Not all breeders have joined, but in my humble opinion, the breeders that do not join will simply lose credibility and be left behind. The same is true for trial sites. If they don’t participate, I can’t see the breeders supporting them

The only people who can view the data today are the breeders and the trial sites. It is a members-only club. If the program goes well in 2013, I foresee the membership opening to growers, landscapers, retailers and other industry members, but it will not be open to the general public any time soon.
For more information, contact Diane Blazek at dblazek@aas-ngb.org.

Allan Armitage (allan@greenhouse grower.com) is a professor in the Department of Horticulture at the University of Georgia, Athens, Ga.

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