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Just doing a farm test plot is an education in itself

Just doing a farm test plot is an education in itself
What you learn from your test plot planting and planning before seed even emerges may surprise you!

If you've planted test plots, you know part of the learning process happens when you put out the plot. You don't have to wait until fall for results.

Here's a case in point. Recently, I helped Pete Illingworth, veteran planter operator at the Purdue University Throckmorton Farm near Romney plant a plot. It's the Indiana Prairie Farmer/Purdue University plot we've planted for many years. Purdue's Bob Nielsen is official sponsor of the plot.

Related: Plot Planting Just Got Simpler With GPS Tools

It's a replicated strip trial plot on eight acres. We're testing two things – how planter set-up affects emergence and yield, and if soil type affects hybrid performance.

Dead-on level: The planter was level. The only problem was we were trying to make it not level!

Our planter set-up test was simple. Every agronomist worth his or her salt insists on the planter frame being level if you're after picket fence stands. So we decided we would run it level, run with a worn hitch that was just replaced, and run it where it wasn't level on purpose.

We both assumed the standard position was level. "I'm pretty sure," Pete said. He brought a small level, and I set it on the frame on a row unit like the operator's manual says. The bubble was cocked to one side. You know what happens when you "assume."

"We're in a rough spot," Pete says. "It will be level later on."

Well, in the hustle of doing the plot, we didn't check again. Next we changed the hitch, hoping to make the planter tilt and seed go shallower. It tilted, but seed went deeper instead.

"Now what?" I asked.

"Well, we could skip the worn hitch because it probably isn't going to make a big difference," Pete says. "Instead, we could turn over the drawbar so the offset part is on top instead of bottom. That will make a big difference."

"Ok, if you don't' mind doing it," I said.

"No problem," Pete said. He's not exactly your average farmer who doesn't mess with plots unless it is punch a couple buttons. In five minutes he had the drawbar flipped and rehooked to the planter.

He set it down and started to plant. He stopped so I could check with the level to see how much it was off.

I put the level on, and scratched my head. The bubble was in the center! It was dead-on level!

Related: Why you might need a new planter hitch

"I glanced up at Pete in the cab and he glanced back at me. "Don't tell me it's level," he said.

"Come look for yourself," I said. It was spot-on level.

So we adjusted our treatments on the plot plan paper and planted. When we finished, I offered to help Pete get reset to his original planting position. By then, the drawbar was already flipped back over, but the hitch wasn't in the right position.

"No, you go ahead," he said with a sly grin. "I think I'm going to turn the drawbar over and try that for a while. I guess we both learned something today."

Yup! And the corn wasn't even out of the ground yet!

Continued reading: New Planting Season is Also Time For New Batch of Testing

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