Plot tours showcase research pipeline Summer meetings are an opportunity for growers to ask questions, see performance

By Trista Crossley

June 2023 variety test plot tour at Mayview. Tim Murray (right) talks to growers about wheat diseases.
June 2023 variety test plot tour at Mayview. Tim Murray (right) talks to growers about wheat diseases.

Variety performance may be the cornerstone of Washington State University’s (WSU) summer plot tours, but there’s a lot of other information also on offer for growers.

“While growers can get the information online, there’s something tangible about being able to see the different varieties,” said Clark Neely, WSU’s cereal variety testing lead and an Extension agronomist. “It’s also a good opportunity to ask questions. I’m at most of these field days, but often times, breeders will also be there, so if growers have real specific questions, they can ask (the breeders).”

For 2024, Neely and his team have 24 winter wheat testing sites and 18 spring wheat sites covering all of Eastern Washington’s rainfall zones. There’s no change in locations from last year, although the program does rotate through different grower cooperators. Neely said that while his program hasn’t fundamentally changed, they have added some new trials. At both the irrigated site and the Dayton site, there are fall-planted spring wheat trials. They’ve added winter barley trials at all the high rainfall sites at the request of WSU barley breeder Bob Brueggeman. And some locations have trials that look beyond varietal testing.

“We have seeding rate trials for spring wheats at Horse Heaven, Farmington, St. John, and the Reardan sites. We’ve got, for the first time this year, seed size by seeding rate trials at three sites: Douglas, Creston, and Ritzville,” Neely explained. “A lot of growers looked at our data last year and noticed that we embedded some treatments into trials where we had extra space. We had different seed size treatments of the variety Ryan. We saw some pretty consistent and noticeable differences and some visual differences they could tell on both height and heading date in addition to yield. There’s plenty of other things to talk about besides just varieties at our plot tours.”

WSU spring wheat breeder Mike Pumphrey is overseeing a spring wheat variety site at Edwall for the first time, but no plot tour for that site is planned for this year.

Attendance at the WSU testing plot tours has been going down, something Neely also saw at his previous variety testing job at Texas A&M (Neely joined the WSU team in 2019). He pointed to the shrinking number of farms as one culprit, and as farms get bigger, growers get busier, often turning to agronomists to get variety testing information. 

“Another big culprit is private industry has stepped up their presence and are delivering information, so a lot of growers are getting information from private industry now. They are doing their own research and their own trials,” he said.

The WSU Variety Testing Program relies on grower cooperators who donate land and resources to host the trials. Funding and support for the program also comes from the Washington Grain Commission. The most current information on the 2024 Variety Testing Plot Tour schedule can be found at, including tour schedule and location maps. Neely can be emailed at