In the months leading up to the much-anticipated planting season, many publications are flooded with the “newest and greatest” products in the marketplace. Those selling these products are demanding that you try their product. In past years, I’ve noticed that products like nitrogen-fixing biologicals seemed to be the rage, and this year, it seems to be talc/graphite replacement products. Whatever the shiny, new toy, one must ask themselves if they can expect to get the same great results on their farm. This leads to the question: “Can you leverage precision-based technologies for successful applications in your operation?”

When considering or incorporating a new product into your operation, I feel some important factors should be determined. Here are some questions to ask when looking over new product data or meta data (information about the data):

  1. How many field comparisons or field trials were conducted?
  2. Where were field trials conducted?
  3. Were these field trials conducted over multiple years?
  4. Who conducted these field trials: universities, third-party researchers, or basic manufacturers?
  5. How is the data represented? 

Really, it comes down to the basic WHO, WHAT, WHERE, and WHEN. These are questions I consider for growers to have favorable data to support yield claims. These questions may help determine if incorporating a new product into your operation will achieve the same results as advertised. 

  1. How is the yield data represented? Are all data points represented and not simply cherry-picked for the most favorable outcomes? A piano graph may best represent this.
  2. Were the grower practices like current practices? 

If a product is determined to be a good candidate for your unique operation, it is time to consider how this product will be implemented. But first, let’s consider the scientific method from your 5th-grade science class:  

  1. Define a question or product to use; the best on-farm trials oftentimes only have one variable.
  2. Gather information or resources.
  3. Form a hypothesis: What will be the outcome if I apply product X?
  4. Test hypothesis: What observation will be collected? Oftentimes, it is the final yield data. But what if product X did impact the germination? If this occurs, a trial design must be determined and implemented. Some examples might include random replicated block design, split field, or replicated strip trials.
  5. Analyze the data. A fair and unbiased analysis of the data is a must. Many things must be considered with data analysis. For example, do treated and untreated areas of the field represent most of it? Also, a big one that sometimes goes unchecked is the calibration of harvesting equipment.
  6. Interpret the data, which can be done by determining if product X increases harvest yield.
  7. Publish results, but for an individual farming operation, this may mean you save the results so that they can be referenced in the future.
  8. Then, depending on the outcome of the on-farm trial, retesting may be needed to determine if product X should be implanted into your operation.  

Tips for Success with On-Farm Field Trials: 

  1. First and foremost, the best on-farm field trials test only one variable; keep it simple. Generally, on-farm field trials that test multiple variables make it difficult to determine success. 
  2. When testing the variable, field applications must match equipment used throughout the growing season. An example of this might be a talc/graphite replacement type product applied to soybeans at planting.
  3. Keep field practices the same across treated and untreated areas of the field. Treated and untreated field areas should accurately represent most acres. Avoid areas like headlands, outside passes of the field, and areas that may be problematic for various reasons. This will often times only include one soybean variety.
  4. Record keeping of treatment applications must be done as well. The easiest way may be recording it on an as-applied map at the time of planting. However, field flags and stakes may also be used. Just be sure good notes are taken along with care to preserve field flags and stakes throughout the growing season until harvest.
  5. Treatment areas should also be the same size as harvesting equipment. This will go a long way when analyzing yield data from the combine when considering yield maps.
  6. Performing combine calibrations recommended by the equipment manufacturer prior to harvesting the field trial is a necessary activity. However, capturing the total bushels from treatment areas, weighing them out, and capturing harvest yield moisture can also be used for product analysis.  

In conclusion, following the scientific method, limiting treatment variables, good trial placement, calibrated equipment, keeping data recorded from start to finish, and fair comparisons will lead to successful on-farm field trials. When placing field trials, except for split field designs, please try to have representative areas of the field that allow for at least 3 defined areas of the treatment, along with at least one area defined as the untreated portion of the trial. Consistency and replication are also key performance applications they say to implement each time to manufacture guidelines.

Lastly, always read and understand the label! Even small things like different water sources for carrier can impact consistency. For an example of replicated field trial with one treatment variable, please see below. By applying treatments perpendicular to the planter passes minimizes harvesting variability along with pass-to-pass variability with the planter as well. Treatment applications like in the example are best applied with prescription-based applications and applied with a rate controller. This design would work will for both liquid and dry applications of crop inputs.  

Credit – E. Beckett, Illini FS

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About the Author: Eric Beckett

Eric Beckett, currently serving as a Field Agronomist with Illini FS, brings a wealth of experience from diverse roles in agronomy research. His career has encompassed weed science, corn and soybean plant breeding, and work in high-yield corn and soybean environments across Illinois. Based in East Central, IL, Eric oversees five counties and manages eight full-service agronomy retail locations in his current position. In his role at Illini FS, Eric dedicates much of his time supporting agronomy sales and operations staff, collaborating closely with grower customers. He also takes charge of managing Illini FS's agronomy interns and the On-Farm Discovery program. Originating from Monticello, IL, Eric now calls Philo, IL, home. Apart from his professional pursuits, Eric finds joy in fishing, traveling with his family, and engaging in DIY projects around the house. Eric is formally trained as an agronomist, holding degrees from Parkland College and Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, IL. His professional qualifications extend to being an active CCA 4R NMS and a licensed UAV Drone Pilot, highlighting his commitment to staying at the forefront of agronomic practices and technology.

One Comment

  1. Dennis Kopp April 12, 2024 at 7:27 am

    Excellent advice. Been doing test plots for 40 years. Biggest challenge when talking to younger agronomist’s is trying to keep it simple. Wanting to add too many tests to a plot. We keep ours simple.

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