On-farm research: Will that really pay on my farm?

Carefully structured on-farm research can help you determine if added inputs or changed practices really will provide a positive return on your farm.

High corn and soybean values enhance farmers’ desires to achieve maximize economic yields. Producers are faced with decisions about whether to add additional inputs or change production practices. These might include foliar fungicides, specialized fertilizers, advanced genetic traits, seed treatments, tillage systems, planting methods, seeding rates, the use of cover crops, addition of irrigation, adoption of new technology, utilization of manure or countless other choices. The question is, do they really add yield and gain net profit?  The product or practice might work well for a researcher or another farmer but it might not be a good choice for everyone. On- farm research can evaluate an in input or practice to determine if it will work for a producer's specific situation and conditions.

Valuable on -farm research starts with a well thought out plan or protocol. Since many fields have variable conditions such as tile lines, soil types, compaction, etc. a single side-by-side comparison is not sufficient. The results can be totally misleading. Variable conditions exist even in the most uniform fields. An excellent method to reduce these variables and to help insure that the comparison results are indeed due to the practice or product is to have several replications of the treatments.

A good rule of thumb in conducting on-farm research is to keep it simple. Test just one input or practice at a time. Also take time to select a site that is as uniform as possible. Try to have at least four replications of each treatment. On-farm research gains its power in replication. More comparisons increase the confidence in the results.  The conclusions are further validated if similar results occur over several years and over numerous sites.

Assistance in conducting an on-farm research comparison can come from your agribusiness agronomist or agricultural Extension educator.  They may have protocols already developed for you to utilize. They may also provide assistance in the field in setting up the trial and obtaining data at harvest. If the trial is setup properly, they can help run the statistical analysis with the results.

MSU Extension field crop educators work with farmers on a regular basis in conducting on-farm trials. Each year the results of dozens of trials are shared statewide through the Field Crops Team On-Farm Research and Demonstration report. This report is sponsored by the Michigan Soybean Promotion Committee and the Corn Marketing Program of Michigan. It is available at most MSU Extension county offices.

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