Increase Profitability with On-Farm Research

Increase Profitability with On-Farm Research March 16, 2017

On-farm research is a powerful decision-making tool for farmers, especially when making management decisions. On-farm research can provide meaningful information specific to your soils, farming practices, and local conditions, allowing you to make management decisions with confidence.

Jerry Mulliken, who farms near Nickerson in east central Nebraska, has been involved with Nebraska Extension On-Farm Research efforts for over two decades. He has conducted over 30 studies, with some studies continuously running for as long as 13 years.

Mulliken turned to on-farm research because it “gives you first-hand experience with the questions we have.” Mulliken finds benefit from on-farm research beginning in the planning phase. “Setting up the trial in the first place makes you really think things through,” Mulliken says.

Mulliken has researched dozens of topics over the years. One question he examined was, “Should lime applications be incorporated in a no-till environment?”

East-central Nebraska farmer Jerry Mulliken discusses what he's learned by participating in the Nebraska On-Farm Research Network.

“When I began this study, my standard practice was to always incorporate lime,” Mulliken explains. “But through long-term on-farm research, I found I could get good results without incorporating lime, when lime was applied more frequently and in smaller amounts.” Other studies Mulliken conducted focused on fertilizer. Through these studies, Mulliken found there was more variability in his fields than he had previously realized.

Mulliken has also conducted research on the optimal soybean planting date. “Through planting date studies, I learned quite a bit about planting date and now plant much earlier than I used to.” But results can vary from year to year ― this means repeating the research in multiple locations and different growing seasons will bring more confidence into decision-making.

One way to accelerate your learning is to combine your research efforts with others. Several producers in south central Nebraska teamed up to research the soybean planting date question. Through their efforts they were able to collect 12 sites of data in three years. They found that by planting an average of 21 days earlier, yields were increased by 2.7 bu/ac.

Sometimes, however, the new practice or product you try doesn’t result in a yield increase. These results are valuable too. Using on-farm research to test a product or practice on a few acres, before adopting it on a larger scale, can save money in the long run.

You can benefit from the research other producers in Nebraska have conducted. Previous research results are available at https://cropwatch.unl.edu/farmresearch. You can also access an interactive database of over 600 previous on-farm research results at http://resultsfinder.unl.edu/.

Considering the yield impact of a given treatment is important ― but don’t overlook the impact on the bottom line. Keeping records of differing management costs ― things like new product costs and additional trips across the field ― is critical; this allows you to evaluate if a different management strategy will provide a positive return on investment.

At the end of the day, you can’t beat conducting research on your own farm. Your soils, weather, and management practices combine to create a unique environment. Nebraska Extension has a number of resources that will help you conduct and analyze scientific research on your own farm. To get started read 10 Steps to On-Farm Research Success or peruse the interactive Grower’s Guide to On-Farm Research.

“Many times, the research confirms what you thought you knew,” Mulliken explains. But Mulliken cautions against false assumptions. “If you think you know something — but don’t really know it — then that’s a problem.” The solution to not basing important management decisions on potentially incorrect assumptions? Use data from on-farm research to prove profitability.