Take a careful look at field crop on-farm research

On-farm research is a valuable source of information to determine the effectiveness of production practices, inputs and variety performance. Here is a list of suggestions in collecting good representative data.

It is exciting to be involved with field crop production with high crop values. Under these conditions, farmers are striving to increase yield and production efficiency. The economics of using additional inputs change when the price per bushel increases. Sometimes a decision is made to use a product or practice without knowing precisely how much yield or quality will be enhanced. Now is the time to evaluate those decisions.

The question is, do they really add yield and gain net profit? The work of laying out replicated treatments of an additional input or a changed practice occurred this spring and summer. Now comes the equally important task of collecting good representative data. Here is a list of suggestions.

  • Take a close look at your treatments. Yield is important criteria, but not the only factor to consider. Observe differences in disease pressure, lodging, seed or grain quality, and other applicable characteristics.
  • Look for odd areas in your field that appear to not be related to the treatments. Take steps to avoid variable conditions giving you misleading results.
  • If you have only one side-by-side strip or are comparing one field to another, be very careful about any conclusions you make. Many fields have variable conditions such as tile lines, soil types, compaction, etc. A single, side-by-side comparison is not sufficient. Variable conditions exist even in the most uniform fields. An excellent method to reduce these variables and help insure that the comparison results are indeed due to the practice or product is to have several replications of the treatments.
  • Calibrate your yield monitor and use it. Another option is to utilize a weigh wagon. Contact your seed dealer, agri-business rep, or Michigan State University Extension educator to see if they have access to one. A third choice is to haul each treatment to a nearby scale. Be certain to get percent moisture readings and test weight measurements on each treatment in addition to weights.
  • Measure the length and width of your harvested area for each treatment. Convert to acres (length in feet times width in feet divided by 43,560).
  • Calculate your economic gain. Subtract the cost of the practice or the input including application costs from the value of your increased yield. Consider any other costs such as your time, environmental risk, community response, crop quality, etc.
  • If the field trial has at least three replications, run a statistical analysis on your results to determine how conclusive your data is. Extension educators and specialists can assist you.
  • Compare your results with other producer’s experiences, extension or university trials, agri-business trials, and the promoted anticipated results. Are the results repeatable?
  • Plan your action for next year. It may take multiple years of information before you can be certain of the value of the input or practice.

Michigan field crop Extension educators work with farmers on a regular basis in conducting on-farm trials. Each year the results of dozens of trials are shared statewide through various on-farm research and demonstration reports. Much of this research has been sponsored by the Michigan Soybean Promotion Committee, Corn Marketing Program of Michigan, NCR SARE, and local agribusinesses. It is available at many MSU Extension county offices.

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