Farm Progress

Testing Ag Performance Solutions lets growers try different management for hybrid selection, planting population, nitrogen, irrigation, crop insurance and marketing.

Tyler Harris, Editor

April 5, 2017

4 Min Read
FOCUS ON EFFICIENCY: The goal of UNL-TAPS is to promote efficiency and profitability while giving farmers a chance to learn from those who grow corn profitably.

Corn growers already have opportunities to compete in yield contests, but a new competition offered by University of Nebraska Lincoln called Testing Ag Performance Solutions is giving growers in west-central Nebraska a chance to compete to optimize profitability and efficient use of water and nitrogen.

The UNL-TAPS program is hosting its first annual Farm Management Competition, where producers will compete against each other, as well as UNL scientists, for the most profitable, the highest input-use efficiency (water and nitrogen), and the greatest grain yield.

The goal is to promote efficiency and profitability while giving a chance to learn from those who grow corn profitably.

"We wanted to have a competition where a grower could go through different management practices and see the end result," says Daran Rudnick, irrigation and water management specialist at the West Central Research and Extension Center (WCREC) in North Platte. "We initially thought it would be a simulation, kind of like a computer program. The challenge with that is the only way to evaluate irrigation scheduling would be crop modeling. Here, we can ask, 'If we were to use these practices in a real field, what would be the result?'"

Chuck Burr, water cropping systems educator at WCREC, says the competition measures six components: hybrid selection, planting density, nitrogen management, irrigation scheduling, grain marketing and crop insurance. Extension is working with more than 20 growers on small plots located under a 40-acre pivot at WCREC. Decisions will be implemented on three randomized plots, where each plot is six rows wide by 100 feet in length. The average of the three plots will be used for scoring.

"Sometimes when we go after top yield, we apply more water and nitrogen than the crop really needs, and it may not be profitable in some instances," says Burr. "Hopefully, having a competition with side-by-side plots will show that higher nitrogen and water use efficiency are attainable, but also our yields aren't much different from our top-yield producers."

Growers can use a base hybrid or select a hybrid of their own and determine the plant population. The pivot at WCREC is variable-rate and fertigation-equipped, so growers can decide when and how much to irrigate, and the rates and timings of nitrogen applications, whether applying all of their nitrogen preplant or split-applying through fertigation in-season. They'll also have a chance to try different crop insurance products and use different grain marketing strategies.

Participants will submit management information through the competition's website, and bi-weekly photographs of the plots, crop growth stage, past weather data and soil water status will be collected and uploaded to the site. Supporting data will be collected and used to assess the performance of each management strategy and will be made available following the competition.

"If you're a producer, this is an opportunity to evaluate your current management strategies against others or to experiment with new management strategies that you have not yet implemented on your farm," Rudnick says. "Extension is also one of the contestants, not for the cash award, but we're going to use our UNL recommendations on everything. It's going to be interesting to see how we perform relative to our producers."

A midseason meeting will be on June 27 and another meeting at the WCREC field day on Aug. 24, when Extension will provide project updates and tour the competition plots. The competition will wrap up with an award banquet on Jan. 15, when three awards will be given. The top award will go to the grower with highest economic profitability. The second award will go to the grower with the highest input-use efficiency for water and nitrogen. A third award will be given to the grower who achieves the highest yield. The grand prize winner will receive a minimum of $2,000.

"To me the most exciting thing is when we get together at our awards banquet," says Burr. "The producer that wins the top award will be able to discuss their strategies and why they made the decisions they did. Hopefully, the rest of us can learn from them as well."

UNL-TAPS was developed by Daran Rudnick, UNL Extension irrigation and water management specialist; Chuck Burr, Extension educator; Matt Stockton, agricultural economist; and Rodrigo Werle, Extension cropping systems specialist, in partnership with the Nebraska Water Balance Alliance. The competition is sponsored by Nebraska Extension; Tri-Basin, Upper Republican, Middle Republican, Lower Republican, and Twin Platte Natural Resources Districts; Central Nebraska Public Power and Irrigation District; Li-COR Biosciences; Simplot Grower Solutions; and additional sponsors listed at


About the Author(s)

Tyler Harris

Editor, Wallaces Farmer

Tyler Harris is the editor for Wallaces Farmer. He started at Farm Progress as a field editor, covering Missouri, Kansas and Iowa. Before joining Farm Progress, Tyler got his feet wet covering agriculture and rural issues while attending the University of Iowa, taking any chance he could to get outside the city limits and get on to the farm. This included working for Kalona News, south of Iowa City in the town of Kalona, followed by an internship at Wallaces Farmer in Des Moines after graduation.

Coming from a farm family in southwest Iowa, Tyler is largely interested in how issues impact people at the producer level. True to the reason he started reporting, he loves getting out of town and meeting with producers on the farm, which also gives him a firsthand look at how agriculture and urban interact.

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