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Source: Newground, January 18, 2016

Field Trial Photo Courtesy of OMEX

Field trials on your farm can be well worth the time and effort they take.

On-farm trials definitely are becoming more common. And companies are happy to cooperate, says Justin Daymond, Technical Sales Representative in southern Manitoba for Arysta LifeScience. Daymond works with agronomists, cooperating farmers and new products in support of on-farm test plots.

“Every company is doing trials and working with farmers,” Daymond says. “Farm managers should be doing trials as a routine because technology is changing so quickly. The fact is, however, only certain farmers want to do them, because they take time.”

In addition evaluating to changing technologies, Daymond says natural variability of the land is a second reason to run trials on your own farm.

“Products can work differently within nearby areas,” he says. “Ten miles down the road, it won’t work the same. Crop varieties, especially, can work differently just a short distance away.”

For trials, a lot depends on the customer, the product, the timing and the goals of both the company and the farmer, Daymond says.

“This year in Canada, Arysta LifeScience is promoting a new flag-leaf strobilurin fungicide (Evito® Fungicide). We selected customers to try a jug that will treat 80 acres, then we followed up during the growing season. In return for the product, we collect information such as pictures of the plants, the yield and the quality of the grain,” he says.

Measuring yield

There are a few ways to measure yield accurately for a field trial, Daymond says, but don’t try picking an average directly from a bouncing yield monitor. A reliable low-technology approach for measuring yield is to start with an empty hopper, travel a measured distance in an average part of a trial strip, then weigh the results. The scale could be on a grain cart. It could be a truck scale in the farm yard or in town.

Combine operators can collect a swath down the length of the field from both sides of two treatments, then weigh the grain in the cart for each run.

Another option, for those who like and use precision farming software, is to map the entire field for yields and trial areas, then let the software generate accurate comparisons.

For trials using herbicide, fungicide or insecticide, Daymond recommends that growers/cooperators minimize variables by using strips of treated and untreated crop from two areas of a field that are equal in productivity.

After the application, he says, the typical procedure is to have a representative from the company scout the treatment to see actual results.

The big picture about farm trials is seen by Brian Schilling, Arysta LifeScience Development Manager for Canada.

“Ideally, doing farm trials would be good for everyone, but they do require time and focus,” Schilling says. “It doesn’t always fit into a schedule, but it is a good way of learning how new products work, and how they work on an individual farm.”

Making time for a trial can be the biggest commitment.

“It takes time to understand new products,” he says. “One way a grower can do this is split a field and apply products based on the product labels and then monitor the treated areas during the growing season. Doing this, it becomes important to keep records – when they sprayed, crop stage, stages of weeds or pests at application, and, how these changed after the application.

“If they put in the time to understand the data and learn from it for next year, they can change or improve the ways they farm with these products,” Schilling says.

If you’re going into it for the first time, be sure to be consistent, he says. Follow labels, keep products you are comparing in the same field and treat them the same. If it works for you, do an untreated control without product. Take that idea a step further and replicate the trial nearby. You’re looking for consistent results.

“It’s always nice to have a check strip between two treatments in a field,” Schilling says. “It can be as simple as shutting off a sprayer boom for a second or two in each area. Or, lay down a tarp to drive over in each area. There are lots of ways to do it, but untreated strips are nice.”

Top Tips for on-farm trials

Here’s a collection of tips for on-farm trials from several sources. Several are suggestions from Todd Clark. He began doing farm trials for seed companies more than 20 years ago on Tribend Ranch, near Edmonton, Alberta.

  • Set a goal for the trial. Usually, the goal is to make an informed choice between two or more options. The goal might be financial (such as return on investment), or effective control of a particular pest or sustainability of a practice.
  • Do advance planning. Plan the trial in winter. Do research, go to meetings, talk to company reps about what’s new or becoming available.
  • Ask your company rep early about doing a trial on your farm with new product(s). Companies need data from many trials at many locations, especially for new products. They are likely to be eager to work with you, if you will cooperate with their needs.
  • If a company does not need further field trials, it’s still a good idea to ask about markers and sample packs of new products.
  • Set up trials in a manner that allows you to easily separate the yield results after harvest.
  • Half-and-half is the simplest comparison to do. for strip trials within a field, pick ground that is ‘average’ for the field.
  • Good science is all about confidence through repeatability. The more replications of a trial, the better, in the most locations possible.
  • Seeding down and back across the field is enough for a simple trial. Repeat it two or three times on a single field for more confidence in the record.
  • Choose a site that is fairly consistent for soils, landscape and history. Choose sites where you are likely to see the clearest response to your trial product or treatment.
  • Use markers that stay visible for the entire growing season.
  • Carry survey stakes in your tractor or sprayer and a permanent ink marker. If you have an urge for an impromptu trial, stake it on the spot.
  • Weigh results at harvest with the scale on the grain cart. It’s usually easy and accurate.