Just how does a specific hybrid perform on your farm? What about plant population? Did that fungicide boost returns? Every step you take every season is surrounded by a range of other decisions and keeping track of all those investments isn't easy.
Yet for the past few years, more of our readers are taking the time to set up their own in-field plots to test hybrid/variety performance; or they're looking at how a specific product or practice worked. With the precision ag tools available today you can be your own researcher. The trick is to remember specific rules of research - and one over-riding theme: keep it simple.
If you want to know how a specific hybrid performs versus all others - that's the only change to your program, plant that hybrid with others - segregate the planting so you can get data from the yield map and you're set. The key is to test one variable - and change no others (that you can control).
Field-size trials of any concept can be quite enlightening. For example, if you want to test population, you could divide a single field into three areas and plant at three populations, using the same hybrid. Choosing a hybrid that responds to higher populations might make sense, but that could skew the results too. Your seed agronomist has a lot of background in this kind of thing - you can work with him or her to develop the right test.
If you're testing a crop protection product, like a fungicide, it's important to have a control. Say you're planning on testing a fungicide. You can test it two ways - against no treatment, or against another treatment. In the second approach you would have three areas - Fungicide A, Fungicide B and a non-treated area. All other things would be equal - same hybrid, same weed control program, same fertility program in the field (this would not be a time for variable rate fertilizer if you're really testing the fungicide).
It takes time to set these tests up, but look at your data this winter. You will know some things about how a hybrid or variety performed; or how a specific practice worked. If you're not sure, design a test and make it happen in 2013. Of course, drought made all research a nightmare. As one researcher told me recently, he couldn't "buy" rain in June and July but when harvest time for plots arrived in September and October he couldn't get into the field.
There are some variables you can't control. Yet a well set up test will still give you information about how a specific variable performed. For example, if you had drought, but had run the fungicide test the variance (not total yield) between each strip could still be enlightening.
Keeping things simple for your own tests will give you much more useful information. If you've run tests in the past and have lessons you want to share, click on the comment tool below and share with the group.
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