When a new product or management practice is introduced, the automatic question of most growers is, “Will this work on my farm?” In an age where grower choices are practically limitless, on-farm trials can be an extremely valuable tool for gaining insights on how a product may work on a grower’s farm before making the financial investment of placing it on every acre. While technologies like yield monitors are a great asset for conducting these trials, they are not a requirement. The following steps can create an on-farm trial that can provide valuable insights on your own operation:
- Pre-planning is critical! It is no secret that the quality of information produced is directly correlated with the time spent planning the trial. Experiments cobbled together when the planter pulls into the field often provide little insight at harvest. Identify what practices or products you want to incorporate into your operation. Your Channel Seedsman or agronomist can also provide additional insight.
- Keep it simple. It’s tempting to test everything but the kitchen sink. Fight that urge. The most effective trials are the ones that address a specific question such as, “How does a product perform on my farm?” (Figure 1), “Does increasing corn population provide a greater return?” or “Which fungicide product showed the greatest yield response?” Also, keep it practical. If you are testing increasing corn seeding population by 4,000 seeds/acre but are not realistically willing to implement the change, the information is of little value.
- Replicate your test, if possible. Every farmer has fields that he or she views as the best and, conversely, the worst. It is human nature to perform trials on the best fields. In a perfect scenario, consider replicating your trials, meaning conduct them in the fields where you would invoke the change. For example, if you are testing whether you should apply fungicide to your corn acres, try to perform the experiments in both irrigated and dryland fields. If you are limited to only one field, conduct it in one acre that is representative of the majority.
- Site selection: Select a uniform part of the field, as soil texture changes can affect the results. If a uniform area is not possible, be sure that all treatments (e.g., products or other factors being tested) are all affected. For example, if you are performing a product trial and the soil type changes from a sandy loam to a silty clay, make sure that all products are represented on each soil type. Avoid placing X number of products on the sandy loam soil and Y number of products on the silty clay soil, for example.
- Minimize bias. This is very important for data quality. Be sure to select an area in the field that is free of wheel traffic and issue-prone areas, such as wet spots. Also, avoid placing the trial in end rows. Finally, conduct the trial at the largest size that your resources (e.g., plot seed, fungicide) allow as that can help minimize external sources of bias (e.g., wildlife damage, etc.).
- Collecting and understanding the information. If your operation utilizes yield mapping technology, collecting accurate information is easy if the equipment is properly calibrated. If your operation does not, do not despair. Data can still be accurately gathered with a weigh wagon in coordination with your Channel Seedsman. Finally, your Channel Seedsman or agronomist can help you interpret the results and provide consultation on how to incorporate them into your operation.
Contact your Channel Seedsman or agronomist if you have additional questions about on-farm testing or for help designing your trial.