One of my colleagues Laura Thompson who is focused in on-farm research and precision agriculture reminds producers that fall is a great time to start thinking about what to improve for next year’s crops. As you are harvesting, are their some places in your fields where you think they should yield more and some that pleasantly surprised you? What might be some of those factors? Have you tested products or practices you have used recently to determine what might be contributing to your end results? As input costs continue to rise and commodity prices decline, what are some products or practices you could reduce to increase your profit?
UNL Extension coordinates the Nebraska On-Farm Research Network that can help you design and evaluate an experiment that will provide reliable information specific to your operation using your equipment. Laura points out that precision agriculture technologies have greatly enhanced the ease and accuracy with which we can evaluate the profitability of many practices. Inputs such as water, fertilizer and seed can be applied at variable rates across a field but tracked and geo-referenced. Yield monitors provide yield data for individual field treatments, which can be quickly evaluated and eliminates the inconvenience of needing to use a weigh wagon to calculate grain weights for each treatment.
In order to get started you need to formulate a good question. For example a good question focuses on a single practice and clearly identifies what will be measured; start by identifying a “yes” or “no” question. Local producers several years ago asked the following question, “Can I reduce my soybean population without reducing yield?” Excellent results were achieved from that study and as a result some producers have saved money by reducing soybean populations from 180,000 seeds/acre to 120,000 seeds/acre.
On-Farm research does more than just provide a side-by-side comparison. It provides a set-up for producers that is randomized and replicated to obtain reliable information and assures results were not just a fluke thing by taking out favoritism towards a treatment and reduces the possibility that results are due to chance rather than the treatment.
I’ve had the opportunity to work with some excellent producers in the area and would love to work with you in the 2015 growing season. If you have more questions, you can call my office at (402) 759-3712 or On-Farm Research Network coordinators Keith Glewen at (402) 624-8030 or Laura Thompson at (402) 245-0199. More information can also be found on UNL Extension’s CropWatch website at cropwatch.unl.edu.