Some people describe test plot results as autopsy results – what data is left after the plot is harvested. Mark Lawson thinks that if all you have are the results in terms of bushels per acre for one hybrid or variety or practice vs. another one, you're not going to get the whole story. You needed to be there asking questions and making observations during the season to know why the results may have turned out as they did.
"The results from a test plot don't tell you much if you don't know what was going on during the year," he says. "You need to know what kind of symptoms were in the field. Which diseases and bugs were there? What was the soil fertility like? What you need to know is what these conditions were like before the patient died," he says.
Or, in this case, before the test plot matured and was harvested.
Lawson maintains several test plots on his farm near Danville. He is also an agronomy service rep for Syngenta. He likes to get a look at various comparisons between products and practices on his own soils so he knows what to expect elsewhere.
When he has his own plots Lawson is busy during the season checking out plots almost on a daily basis. He examines how the crop is performing, and makes notes that will help possibly explain things once harvest is over.
One year ago he had plots comparing drought-tolerant corn vs. regular corn on his farm. The drought and heat stress was so severe that neither hybrid yielded well in the end. But because he watched both plots during the season, he knew that the drought-tolerant corn did its job – it held on longer than the other hybrid. Drought tolerant doesn't mean drought resistant, and it eventually succumbed to the heat and drought in 2012.