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Test treatments with on-farm research networkTest treatments with on-farm research network

A Nebraska Extension educator and network director talks about studies from the past year and ways to participate in 2022.

Curt Arens

March 18, 2022

3 Min Read
Farmers at field day
TEST IT OUT: Farmers participating in the Nebraska on-farm research network have a team of Nebraska Extension staff available to help them carry out treatments and practices they want to test on their cropland.Curt Arens

Do you have a practice or treatment that has been on your radar for years, and you’ve always wanted to try out on your farm? If the answer is “yes,” then Nebraska’s on-farm research network, which began in 1990, might be one way to test your ideas.

At the recent on-farm network 2022 annual results update meetings held across the state in February, Laura Thompson, Nebraska on-farm research network director and Extension educator, told producers that Nebraska Extension has the expertise and tools to make designing and completing a useful on-farm study easy and seamless.

“You decide what type of trial you are interested in,” Thompson said. “We will work with you to set up a study on that topic. Or you can join other farmers in an ongoing project that you can just jump onboard with.”

No matter what you are testing, Nebraska Extension staff will help design the study and set it up, Thompson said.

“We assist with data collection, harvest support, and will set it up so you get the data you need,” she said. “Our trials are randomized and replicated, so for two treatments testing starter fertilizer vs. no starter, for instance, there will be multiple replications of those treatments. This allows us to get really good information and research results.”

Most farm equipment has GPS capabilities, but if a producer does not, the trials can be flagged out in the field. Producers can also use yield monitors to relate yield to each of the treatment strips a producer is testing, Thompson said. “If you don’t have a yield monitor in the combine, we can use weigh wagons,” she added.

Easy and seamless

Technology today has allowed for most trials to be convenient and seamless to do, Thompson said. “If we are doing a seeding rate trial, for instance, we do the design in advance. The treatment is put in on-the-go as the producer is planting the field,” she explained. “At the end, we collect the yield data on-the-go with the yield monitor. This way, we can fit more replications into the design, and we can test the lowest rate on the smallest amount of acreage, so we don’t have to use that many acres.”

Studies already planned for this year that cooperators can join include projects looking at precision nitrogen management with crop models, crop sensors and special fertilizer products that can be applied with split application timing or upfront.

Another study is looking at starter fertilizer for soybeans, if that is something a producer is interested in trying. There are studies on sulfur fertilizer, to better quantify the yield response to sulfur fertilization. Lots of producers are also interested in testing PivotBio products at different nitrogen rates.

There are a number of research plans already created and available online at on-farm-research.unl.edu/protocols. While these trials are already set up, producers are able to test other products or practices that they are interested in on their farm. “We are happy to work on any question you are interested in,” Thompson said.


There are more than 1,000 on-farm research reports, videos of past meetings and a complete database of past research studies online at on-farm-research.unl.edu. You can find mobile-friendly resources, protocols, basic principles of conducting research, and an interactive map with filters by county, crop and topic.

“This is useful if there is something you are curious about, or if you are considering doing a study to see what has already been done, so you can take your study to the next level,” Thompson says.

“The 2021 research results PDF is now published online and is available for viewing and download,” she adds. This report covers a number of different studies on a wide variety of topics and treatments from 2021. (see table)


About the Author(s)

Curt Arens

Editor, Nebraska Farmer

Curt Arens began writing about Nebraska’s farm families when he was in high school. Before joining Farm Progress as a field editor in April 2010, he had worked as a freelance farm writer for 27 years, first for newspapers and then for farm magazines, including Nebraska Farmer.

His real full-time career, however, during that same period was farming his family’s fourth generation land in northeast Nebraska. He also operated his Christmas tree farm and grew black oil sunflowers for wild birdseed. Curt continues to raise corn, soybeans and alfalfa and runs a cow-calf herd.

Curt and his wife Donna have four children, Lauren, Taylor, Zachary and Benjamin. They are active in their church and St. Rose School in Crofton, where Donna teaches and their children attend classes.

Previously, the 1986 University of Nebraska animal science graduate wrote a weekly rural life column, developed a farm radio program and wrote books about farm direct marketing and farmers markets. He received media honors from the Nebraska Forest Service, Center for Rural Affairs and Northeast Nebraska Experimental Farm Association.

He wrote about the spiritual side of farming in his 2008 book, “Down to Earth: Celebrating a Blessed Life on the Land,” garnering a Catholic Press Association award.

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