Once you read this headline, you might conclude there’s nothing new about on-farm testing. You may have tested hybrids and varieties for years. But Beck’s envisions testing new products and practices on more farms in the future. It’s a natural extension of the company’s Practical Farm Research program.
The concept of doing replicated testing on farms isn’t unique to Beck’s. Bob Nielsen and Jim Camberato, Purdue University Extension agronomists, have expanded on-farm testing ever since precision farming techniques made it more practical.
To understand what Beck’s has in mind, here’s an interview Indiana Prairie Farmer conducted with Jim Schwartz. He was recently named director of Beck’s PFR program and director of agronomy.
IPF: The role of director of agronomy is a new position. Why did the company add it?
Schwartz: We see a connection between linking agronomy services with the Practical Farm Research program, which has been part of Beck’s philosophy for a long time. The company made an even bigger commitment to PFR recently. We want our agronomists and PFR staff to connect with each other and be aware of each other’s needs and concerns. The real winner will be the farmer.
IPF: What is the value of the PFR program to farmers?
Schwartz: Our goal is to be a third-party source of information on new products and practices. For example, farmers are evaluating whether new soybean herbicide systems involving Xtend soybeans or Enlist crops fit their systems. We look at these practices in our plots so we can gain insights that we share with farmers.
IPF: Is the PFR program expanding?
Schwartz: Yes. We added 22 new corn trials this year, testing new products and practices we haven’t tested before. Sixteen of those will be repeated at multiple locations. We’ve also added 21 new soybean trials.
IPF: What are some examples of new trials you have added?
Schwartz: There is a lot of talk about applying starter fertilizer on both sides of the row. We have a new trial looking at that concept in corn. We also like to look at new equipment and whether it will pay for farmers. We’re examining Capstan’s Seed-Squirter starter fertilizer application technology and Precision Planting’s FurrowJet application technology.
We’re also introducing our popular closing-wheel studies which we have done with corn to soybeans this year. Our staff feels different types of closing wheels may make a difference in soybean performance, too.
IPF: What is the PFR Proven concept?
Schwartz: If a practice delivers a return on investment on average for three years in a row, we designate it as a PFR Proven practice. Some of them are practices; others are products. For example, reducing soybean seeding rate is a PFR Proven practice.
IPF: Where would you like to take PFR in the future?
Schwartz: The next step is to move proven PFR practices from small plots to the field. Once we’ve proven they work in plots, we need to make sure they work in real-world fields. Our Proven Partners program asks farmers to join us and test practices on their own farms.
IPF: So you see growth in that program?
Schwartz: We definitely do. We have many trials on farms this year, and intend to continue emphasizing working with farmers willing to do on-farm trials in the future.