Over the last dozen years or so, the number of new agronomic products like specialty fertilizers, additives, enhancers, chemicals, seed treatments, and biologicals being introduced to farmers has been mind-boggling. Various new technologies are introduced into the ag industry each year, making rather lofty claims of increasing yields and profits. One could think that, if we just use every new product, our yields will go through the roof. Common sense, however, tells us that is impossible. So, how do we figure out which new products will be good investments and which won’t? It’s not my place to slander or name specific products that may or may not work; however, there are specific methods you can use to find out for yourself, without a lot of pain, how a new product will work for you.
Lack of Reliable Research
With budget constraints in the university system, it has been very difficult to conduct good long-term research, and independent research is rather expensive. In some cases, research that has been completed must be looked at with a wary eye. The old saying, “If it’s too good to be true, it probably is,” conveys a very important perspective to keep in mind to avoid wasting resources. However, by avoiding new products entirely, you can miss out on real, valuable opportunities to improve your farm’s productivity and profitability. So, how are you to know which to use? There is no research more valuable to you than research completed on your own farm.
Specific products and technologies usually do not increase yield, reduce costs, or improve profitability well everywhere. Soils and climatic conditions are different around the world. By trying out technologies on your own farm, you can gather concrete evidence indicating whether they will work for you. This has become much easier to do with yield monitors and programs that analyze data to determine the value of new practices.
Conducting Your Own Field Tests
Your research can be as complex or simple as you want to make it. The first and most accurate method is the tried and true “replicated plots.” This practice involves repeating a treatment at least three times and including control strips where no treatment is used. You can easily find designs for replicated plots on many university and other agricultural websites (such as here). Often, farmers will not want to use replicated plots because it is fairly difficult to set up, and analytics must be applied at the end of the test so the data can be understood in a way that’s useful for guiding farm practices.
Hot Streaks and Strip Trials
A type of “research” that isn’t technically research but can provide valuable information is using “hot streaks” in fields. This is accomplished by completing a treatment at an odd angle across the field. This is only possible when the practice being researched can be applied at a different angle; some can’t be. The test is very easy to conduct and can help you discover the potential of a new technology. For products that can’t be applied at an odd angle (like seed treatments), you can create strip trials, where one or two planter widths have the experimental seed and the rest of the field is planted with your normal seed.
When conducting field research, understanding the characteristics of the soils involved is essential. Up-to-date soil sampling and testing are critical to answering all questions and avoiding vague generalities. One of my clients has a 40-acre field dedicated to research. If the research shows value there, then the new practice is expanded to other locations.
Doing your own research can be very rewarding and educational. It will also help you avoid the pitfalls of using practices that have been “proven successful” in other locations, climates, and soil types, but aren’t suited to your farm.
SoilRight is dedicated to helping farmers improve soil health and farm profits while protecting the environment and natural resources. To find out how we can help your farm achieve optimal soil health, click the image below for a free consultation.