These days, farmers are bombarded with products from every angle. The underlying challenge is determining whether they improve yield and, more importantly, profit. Products cost money, so how do you know they will help the bottom line on your operation?
Conducting strip trials on your farm is one way to answer this question. If you have strip trials out this year, the challenge is to carry them through to the end of the season and compare results.
The following information about conducting strip trials was prepared by the Indiana Conservation Partnership, led by Natural Resources Conservation Service personnel, including: Don Donovan, Clint Harrison, Amanda Kautz, Derek Schmitt and Brian Musser, district conservationists; Susannah Hinds, grazing lands specialist; Stephanie McLain, state soil health specialist; Kris Vance, public affairs specialist; Tony Bailey, state conservation agronomist; Victor Shelton, grazing specialist; and Shannon Zezula, state resource conservationist.
Here’s an example: How much nitrogen do you need? It makes a difference which type of product you choose and the rate of application. Weather is the driver for how much N will be available when the crop needs it. You can only answer this question better if you do some on-farm research over multiple seasons.
Another example is the use of fungicides. Are fungicides needed for corn and soybeans? Are fungicides needed every year? You can best answer these questions with in-field research comparing their use with areas of non-use.
While fungicides can provide a benefit, they also have caused the unintended consequences of reduced soil aggregate stability. In the soil, fungal hyphae and the soil-building chemicals they secrete are responsible for holding the soil together and building healthy soil aggregates. Weighing these benefits vs. the consequences can best be answered with on-farm research.
While on-farm research takes planning, management and time, it will usually pay off in the long term by yielding data to help manipulate your inputs and maintain and improve yield while increasing profit. How do you go about setting up an on-farm trial?
First, select a variable. Then select the product you plan on using. Vary the rate of the product, application date of the product and so forth. Keep it simple, and keep the variables to a minimum — only one, if possible.
Next, pick a field. Soils need to be as equitable as possible across the test area. Lay out test strips so they are easy to manage. Strips should amount to twice as many rows or twice as wide as the header on the combine. It is best to harvest down the middle of the strip rather than the entire strip.
Each trial needs to be replicated more than once. The more replications you have, the more accurate your data will be.
The final requirement is that there must be a control, where there is no change from normal.
You may be able to get some assistance. Purdue University Extension may be working on similar projects and may be interested in helping you. Several soil and water conservation districts collaborate with the Indiana State Department of Agriculture’s INfield Advantage program and could help set up a strip trial if you’re interested in nitrogen use in corn or sulfur in soybeans.
Profit margins in today’s ag economy are tight. The only way you can determine how to improve profit on your farm is to find what works and doesn’t work in your operation. Make on-farm research a part of your management system.