Finding answers with on-farm crop research

Well-carried out on-farm research can help farmers determine if added inputs or changed practices really do provide a positive return on their farm.

High corn and soybean values enhance farmers’ desires to achieve maximize economic yields. Producers are faced with decisions about whether to add additional inputs or chance production practices. These might include foliar fungicides, specialized fertilizers, advanced genetic traits, seed treatments, tillage systems, planting methods, seeding rates, the use of cover crops, addition of irrigation, adoption of new technology, utilization of manure or countless other choices. Each one is promoted to add yield and gain net profit. The question is, “Do they really accomplish this?” The product or practice might work well for a researcher or another farmer, but it might not be a good choice for everyone. Well-designed, on-farm research projects can help determine the answer for a producer’s specific situation and conditions.

Valuable on-farm research projects start with a well-designed plan or protocol. It is not worthwhile comparing the practice or product used in one field to a field without it or even in a single, side-by-side evaluation in the same field. The results can be totally misleading. Variable conditions exist even in the most uniform fields. Tile lines, soil types, compaction, fertility and pest pressure are just a few variables that may over power the treatment and give false conclusions. To help insure that the comparison results are indeed due to the practice or product and not some other variable, multiple replications of the treatment need to be conducted.

A good rule of thumb in conducting on-farm research is to keep it simple. Test just one input or practice at a time. Also, take time to select a site that is as uniform as possible. Try to have at least four replications of each treatment. On-farm research gains its power in replication. More comparisons increase the confidence in the results. The conclusions are further validated if similar results occur over several years and over numerous sites.

Assistance in conducting an on-farm research comparison can come from your agribusiness agronomist or MSU Extension educator. They may have protocols already developed for you to utilize. They may also provide assistance in the field in setting up the trial and obtaining data at harvest. If the trial is set up properly, they can help run the statistical analysis with the results. The Michigan Soybean Promotion Committee is especially interested in working with soybean producers with on-farm research trials. .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address), MSU Senior Extension educator, coordinates the SMaRT soybean trials statewide. He can be contacted at 269-673-0370.

Michigan field crop Extension educators also work with farmers on a regular basis in conducting on- farm trials. Each year, the results of dozens of trials are shared statewide through the Field Crop Team’s On-farm Research and Demonstration report. This report is available at most MSU Extension county offices.

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