Dakota Farmer

5 tips for on-farm experiments

South Dakota farmer offers suggestions on how to successfully use on-farm testing.

Kevin Schulz, Editor

May 19, 2021

3 Min Read
Arlington, S.D., farmer Jesse Hall
KEEP IT SIMPLE: Farmers seeking solutions to a problem on their farms should be willing to try a practice on a small scale before converting their entire operation. Arlington, S.D., farmer Jesse Hall suggests that farmers keep simplicity in mind when developing a research project, not trying to answer too many questions in one trial. Kevin Schulz

Editor’s note: This is the second of a three part series sharing how producers can implement on-farm research into their operation.

Jesse Hall’s research experience through South Dakota State University has followed him to his farm near Arlington, S.D. Here are five tips he offers fellow farmers wishing to research farming practices on their own farm:

1. Formulate a goal. “You’ve got to know what type of change you want, and why you want to make the change,” Hall says.

Whether farmers are curious about planting rates, fertilization rates or row spacings, Hall recommends they have a specific goal they want resolved by on-farm research. Also, do not attempt to answer too many questions in one research plot.

2. Make contacts. Hall stresses the importance of leaning on Extension personnel, or others who may have a scientific background who can help you achieve your goals. Also, know that you can’t beat experience, and Extension personnel may know of someone, or you may have neighbors, who have tried something similar to what you are hoping to accomplish. “Why reinvent the wheel,” he says.

Part 1: On-farm research keeps farmer fresh

Farmers have the practical experience, while the Extension personnel can provide the scientific and statistical background. “And the farmer needs somebody who understands science and statistics, because observation does not always indicate cause,” Hall says. “You need somebody with a statistical background that can tell you ‘perhaps there’s something else going on here.’”

3. Be patient. “Give it time, and do a good job of observing,” Hall says. “Then repeat the experiment on a small scale,” adding that he’s heard horror stories of producers switching their entire operation to a new practice before seeing if it will actually work on their specific farm ground.

“Keep it small; keep it cheap,” he says, adding that farmers don’t have to modify their equipment when they are still in the experimentation phase. “You can hire a neighbor or rent the equipment. You’ve got to figure out a way to make it work with what you’ve got.”

4. Don’t set yourself up for failure. While working in Extension, Hall had a number of conversations with farmers, with some farmers saying, “I tried no-till once and it didn’t work.” In an attempt to get to the root of the issue, Hall found that the farmer had a wet spot that couldn’t get worked one fall. They had decided the next spring to hire the neighbor to plant no-till soybeans on June 20. “Then it started to rain, and it flooded out, so that no-till don’t work,” the farmer told Hall. As a follow-up, Hall asked, “Would it have worked if you would have worked it and planted it?”

“Well, no,” was the sheepish reply.

“OK, you see, you set it up for failure,” Hall told him, understanding the reasoning of maybe not experimenting on your best land. “I can understand their point,” he says. “If you’re experimenting, you don’t want to use your good land if you don’t think it’s going to work. So you put it on the worst land. Well, you can’t do that. But I can see the logic behind it.”

5. Don’t worry what anybody thinks. “Not sure if that’s the biggest hurdle, but it’s a big one,” Hall says. In addition to seeking input and advice from Extension personnel and other producers, he also suggests looking within the family. “If your kid has an idea, don’t stop him,” he says. “Heck, you know what, put your kid in charge of the experiment.”

About the Author(s)

Kevin Schulz

Editor, The Farmer

Kevin Schulz joined The Farmer as editor in January of 2023, after spending two years as senior staff writer for Dakota Farmer and Nebraska Farmer magazines. Prior to joining these two magazines, he spent six years in a similar capacity with National Hog Farmer. Prior to joining National Hog Farmer, Schulz spent a long career as the editor of The Land magazine, an agricultural-rural life publication based in Mankato, Minn.

During his tenure at The Land, the publication grew from covering 55 Minnesota counties to encompassing the entire state, as well as 30 counties in northern Iowa. Covering all facets of Minnesota and Iowa agriculture, Schulz was able to stay close to his roots as a southern Minnesota farm boy raised on a corn, soybean and hog finishing farm.

One particular area where he stayed close to his roots is working with the FFA organization.

Covering the FFA programs stayed near and dear to his heart, and he has been recognized for such coverage over the years. He has received the Minnesota FFA Communicator of the Year award, was honored with the Minnesota Honorary FFA Degree in 2014 and inducted into the Minnesota FFA Hall of Fame in 2018.

Schulz attended South Dakota State University, majoring in agricultural journalism. He was also a member of Alpha Gamma Rho fraternity and now belongs to its alumni organization.

His family continues to live on a southern Minnesota farm near where he grew up. He and his wife, Carol, have raised two daughters: Kristi, a 2014 University of Minnesota graduate who is married to Eric Van Otterloo and teaches at Mankato (Minn.) East High School, and Haley, a 2018 graduate of University of Wisconsin-River Falls. She is married to John Peake and teaches in Hayward, Wis. 

When not covering the agriculture industry on behalf of The Farmer's readers, Schulz enjoys spending time traveling with family, making it a quest to reach all 50 states — 47 so far — and three countries. He also enjoys reading, music, photography, playing basketball, and enjoying nature and campfires with friends and family.

[email protected]

Subscribe to receive top agriculture news
Be informed daily with these free e-newsletters

You May Also Like