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On-farm trials: garbage in, garbage out

In a perfect world, whether or not to do on-farm trials shouldn’t even be a debate. What you learn on your own farm can be invaluable if the trials are designed correctly. The rubber meets the road when you talk about sacrificing planting time to put out the trials.

Some folks with good intentions to test soybean populations in 2011 set the planter at one rate once the calendar went beyond May 20 and they still hadn’t planted the first soybean.

Here is a question for the Indiana Certified Crop Advisers panel. Welcome to three new panelists for spring 2012, some writing for the first time.

Question: We plant soybeans in 15-inch rows at 170,000 seeds per acre. My county ag educator wants to do a replicated plot on my farm from 100,000 to 200,000 seeds per acre, in increments of 20,000. He thinks I’m planting more seed than necessary. It would take an extra half-day. Is it worth it?

Traci Bultemeier, Account manager, Pioneer Hi-Bred, Fort Wayne: On-farm research is always worth the time spent, particularly if you’re willing to put the necessary amount of time into doing it right. The old saying goes “Garbage in, garbage out.”

Here, it means the data is only as good as the effort you gave it — from uniformity of soil at test location, to planting speed, to accurate rates, to soil conditions at time of planting. These are all aspects of getting a good and reproducible yield in the trial.

This is really not as complicated as it sounds! You might also enlist the help of your Extension educator, seed company agronomist or another person who has plot layout experience to specifically design a plot that is easy to plant and will return solid data. It always sounds good to say something is replicated, but knowing how to do it, and implementing it, is another story.

Andy Like, Daylight Farm Supply, Daylight: In all likelihood, the information generated from the test plot should help you make a better management decision that would raise profitability in future years. It would not take a large yield increase or seeding-rate reduction to offset the value of the half-day spent planting the plot.

Furthermore, potential benefits could be expected from less lodging, better harvestability and less disease pressure. However, take caution in making big changes based on one year’s data. The seeding rate that maximized profit this year may not be the same next year.

Dan Ritter, Purdue University Extension ag educator, Newton County: I may be a little biased. My opinion even when I worked in industry was to take the time to do the plot. It’s a chance to spend time with an agronomic professional whether from Extension or your local Certified Crop Adviser.

Then it’s an opportunity to collect sound data from your farm to add to an even larger, more complete data set. This can be an excellent management tool. With today’s equipment, it’s easier and faster to conduct on-farm research.

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How many is too many?: Well-designed on-farm trials could help you determine how many soybeans to plant per acre. Remember, seed count per pound can vary by variety, and from one year to the next.

This article published in the March, 2012 edition of INDIANA PRAIRIE FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2012.