Why You Need to Ask Questions About Plots

Get the most out of plot season.

Published on: Jun 3, 2010
Hopefully your planter will soon be parked away for the season, and the planter units will be cleaned and hung with care in the shop. While you still have to sidedress nitrogen, scout for weeds, spray, perhaps make hay, you will be bombarded with opportunities to attend field plot days and see what's new in plots, especially later in the season. When you go, don't just be first in line to eat the smoked pork chip or ribeye sandwich. Or don't wait around the head table at the end hoping for a free hat and a pen, maybe more. Go with the attitude you want to learn from what they have to show you.

The best way to do that may be to ask questions about how the plot was planted. Was it manipulated to make a certain hybrid, variety or product look good? If so, maybe it's just a demonstration, and that's perfectly fine as long as you know it's a demonstration, not a side-by- side replicated test.

Will these plots be carried to yield? If so, will they be published? Where can you find them if they are published? Will they be published no matter how the plot turns out?

If it's a plot sponsored by a seed company, did they include competitive numbers from other companies? If so, did they include the competitor's best numbers, of just a middle-of-the-road product?

Is it actual research? Unless the plots were randomized, meaning that which treatment or hybrid goes where was decided by chance, then it's not randomized. If not, it makes it too easy to put the hybrid you want to do well and look ground on the best ground, even if it happens almost subconsciously. Everyone wants their product to have the best opportunity possible.

If it is replicated, are there at least two replications? Bob Nielen, Purdue University Extension corn specialist, says two are OK in on-farm trials, but three are better. Four are better yet. They are helpful after the data is collected in determining with more certainty if two products are truly different, or if the difference could have happened just because the second-place hybrid, for example, didn't get the best spot in the field, compared to the winning hybrid, which got the best spot.

Was the seed pulled at random from customer seed, or was it especially bagged and prepared for the plot? It's a fair question to ask? Were the plots hand-weeded? Has nitrogen been applied? If so, when was it applied, and how much has been applied?

These are all legitimate questions to ask. The goal is to separate out factors that may influence one treatment over another so that you can tell which products or practices might be worth a closer look.