On-Farm Test Plots Help Uncover Opportunity
On-farm trials help farmers, like Minnesota's Matt and Luke Lantz, make continual changes to their practices to push yields year after year.
"In 2012, we planted our 'varietal plot,' as we call it, with more drought-tolerant varieties," Matt Lantz says. "Within the plot, we used several different hybrids and found a variety that we selected to handle drought well, but also had remarkable top-end yield. This varietal plot helped us find what works in our area, and we will be putting the variety on our good fields in the future."
The Lantzes use their own trial research to minimize the risk of making sweeping changes on their farm that may not provide a good return, while also uncovering opportunities to increase yield. While there certainly is no shortage of information available on how different crop inputs and solutions perform on research test plots around the world, there is no substitute for seeing firsthand how a new seed, chemical, technology or input will perform on your own land, with your management style.
The stakes are high when it comes to implementing new facets to your production system. That’s why there is tremendous value in conducting trials on your own farm before full implementation.
That said, correctly managing trials requires a finite attention to detail and a certain level of patience. It might even be helpful to take a page out of the books of researchers who conduct these types of tests with regularity as you engage in your own research-and-development program. Below, I’ve listed a few tips that can help growers and retailers incorporate veteran research expertise into their on-farm trial programs.
Select a uniform area
While it may seem fundamental to select an area that will provide a quality control area as well as reliable results, it’s important to remember that in this instance, uniformity can have several different facets you’ll want to be sure to take into account. With so many factors having tangible results on yield, it’s important to use yield maps, soil maps and various other observations about your land to control variability on your test plot.
Eliminate potential bias
It’s always good to remind yourself what you’re hoping to attain with test endeavors: real results that can help inform farm-wide decisions. To do that, you’ll need to be thorough in eliminating potential bias in your results. For instance, there should always be at least two strips of treatment, applied to more than one spot in the field. This will help avoid results being affected by yield issues that pertain to specific portions of the field.
Record more than just results
Today’s precision ag data makes operating your own test plot easier than ever. You’ll want to be sure to not only recognize that data, but to record it for reference. From seed rates to GPS information to pictures of the field, be sure to maximize the information available in any test you conduct. You never know when you might want to go back to that file and reference the details of that season that may have impacted the test — or provided a hint as to under what circumstances a product would be most effective.
Harvest your information properly
Too many great test plots lack trustworthy harvest information because of mistakes made during the final step of the season. To be fair, this may be the most difficult part of managing a test plot, but once again, attention to detail will pay informational dividends.
Test plots should never be the first field harvested because it’s important the yield monitor is accurately calibrated before you run the combine through a test plot.
Additionally, you’ll want to be sure to independently harvest test strips for accurate data treatments. This can be tricky, and requires early-season thought as well, because your combine needs to match the test plot size.
While test plots certainly create some added work on your operation, there’s no better time to engage in the process. After all, there’s a lot at stake, and there is no better way to test products for your operation than on your own acres.