Growers Share about Their On-Farm Research

Growers Share about Their On-Farm Research February 21, 2018

Are you thinking about adopting a new farming practice or buying a new product, but unsure whether it’s likely to be cost-effective for your operation? Would you like to test it before investing, but not sure how to set up a trial?

On-Farm Research Updates Continue Next Week

Two more Nebraska On-Farm Research Updates are scheduled for next week in western Nebraska, an area where faculty would like to engage more participants. Learn more about the program and talk with participants at these meetings:

Feb. 27 — Grant, Henry J. Stumpf International Wheat Center, 12 noon - 4:30 p.m. MT

Feb. 28 — Alliance, Knight Museum Sandhills Center, 908 Yellowstone Ave., 9 a.m. - 12 p.m. MT

Details and registration here.

Conducting your own on-farm research using well-tested, scientific research methods can help provide the reliable answers you need to make decisions. In addition, on-farm research can be rewarding and even fun at times, say three farmers who participated in the Nebraska On-Farm Research Network (NOFRN) in 2017.

For almost three decades Nebraska growers have been working with university specialists and educators and experts from the ag industry to design research projects to test products and practices on farm, sharing the results with other growers who might be considering similar questions. In 2017 more than 80 NORFN projects were conducted to study products, practices, and new technologies that impact farm productivity and profitability, said Laura Thompson, extension educator and NOFRN co-coordinator with Keith Glewen, extension educator.

This month growers are sharing about their studies at the On-Farm Research Update meetings, where there has been a lot of interaction and dialogue, Thompson said. “These meetings are a great opportunity for growers interested in conducting on-farm research to learn about the process and individual studies and talk with other growers as they begin to plan their own research.”   

Previous studies can be found in the On-Farm Research Network Database. (To view studies, search by keyword or view reports categorized by research topic, county, year, crop or irrigation type.)

Thompson and Glewen write about the program and note seven reasons to conduct on-farm research in a December article in Nebraska Farmer.

Narrow Row and Strip-till Soybean Trials

Don Batie in his soybean field trial
Figure 1. Lexington farmer Don Batie compared no-till vs. strip-till vs. strip till plus fertilizer on soybeans (left) in one of the two on-farm research trials he conducted in 2017.

Don Batie, a corn-soybean farmer near Lexington, conducted two on-farm research studies in 2017, his first time participating in NOFRN. He researched using a 15- vs. 30-inch row spacing for soybeans and no-till vs. strip-till vs. strip till plus fertilizer on soybeans in pivot-irrigated fields.

Batie said he had been thinking about switching to narrow row soybeans when he was at a Nebraska Extension meeting where the speakers were discussing research opportunities.

“I was moving in that direction because of what I’d seen other places, but seeing it on my own farm sure enhanced it. I’m a firm believer of testing it out before we implement a change. We try things all the time, but by doing the on-farm research with the university, we used a statistical approach that brought a lot more confidence to the findings,” Batie said.

The research plots took a little more time in planting and at harvest, when each strip had to be weighed, but with GPS it was still relatively easy.

“Technology is allowing research we couldn’t even do five years ago. I drilled those strips first and an employee started planting at the same time.”

Batie worked with Sarah Sivits, crops extension educator in Dawson County, and Jenny Rees, crops extension educator in York County, to plan and evaluate the results of the two studies. In the row-spacing trial in soybean, yield was 3 bu/ac higher in the 15-inch drilled treatment compared to the 30-inch planted treatment. There was no moisture difference between the two. The marginal net return was significantly greater for the 15-inch drilled treatment. Based on these findings, Batie said he will likely change to a 15-inch drilled system in his pivot-irrigated and sub-surface drip irrigated fields.

The second trial was a comparison of no-till vs strip-till vs strip-till plus 100 lb/ac of 11-52-0 fertilizer on soybeans. Yield was 5 bu/ac higher in the strip-till with fertilizer compared to the no-till treatment; however, there was no difference between the no-till and strip-till without fertilizer. There were no differences in marginal net return among the three treatments.

Nitrogen Inhibitor

Derek Dam in a soybean field
Figure 2. Derek Dam stands in one of his soybean fields near Hooper. He tested a nitrogen inhibitor in a liquid nitrogen preplant application in a corn trial on some silty clay loam bottomland.

Derek Dam of Hooper is at the start of his farming career and looked to the university program to help design a replicated, randomized trial. He tested a nitrogen inhibitor in a liquid nitrogen preplant application on some often-wet bottomland where he was concerned about the potential for nitrogen loss.

“You can get in a routine of doing the same thing, but there’s always new stuff coming out and it’s worth it to give it a shot, at least on a small scale, to see if it will work in our system.”

Dam, the youngest of three generations in a family farm operation growing corn, soybeans and alfalfa and raising a cow-calf herd, had tried his own research trials but wanted to do a little more and joined the university project. He worked with Extension Educator Nathan Mueller in Dodge County to design and evaluate the randomized, replicated research.

“Nathan did a really good job of helping us get set up. We shot him the idea and he worked out how best to conduct the research. We said we wanted to do a nitrification inhibitor study on this piece of farmland and he took it from there.”

Nitrification inhibitors reduce the rate at which ammonium is converted to nitrate. This can help reduce N losses through denitrification and leaching, keeping more of the nitrogen where it was intended. The study compared areas with and without Instinct® II nitrogen stabilizer, using ear leaf N concentrations and aerial imagery during the evaluation process. Dam found that grain yield was 4 bu/ac higher for the Instinct treatment; however, there was no difference in the marginal net return between treated and untreated areas.

Dam is considering continuing the trial in another field in 2018.

Cover Crops and Grazing

Trial of grazed and ungrazed cover crop after wheat
Figure 3. Ken Herz of Lawrence studied the effect on the following corn crop of planting and grazing a cover crop planted after the previous wheat crop. Soil moisture was assessed throughout the trial (right).

Another first-year participant, Ken Herz, researched the effects of grazing cover crops after wheat in a three-year corn-soybean-wheat rotation. Herz raises corn, wheat, soybeans, and alfalfa and has a cow-calf operation on a dryland farm in south-central Nebraska.

“We started with one field, but quickly realized that we would be missing yearly data. We are now going to incorporate three fields so that we have information yearly.”

“We take a systems approach toward all the different enterprises, trying to take advantage of the strengths of each operation and how they complement the other operations,” Herz said. He worked with Nebraska Extension educator Jenny Rees to design the study and evaluate the results.

The cover crop was planted after wheat and prior to corn; soil moisture was monitored throughout the study. While the cover crop treatments had more water depletion in March and April compared to the non-cover crop area, the field received good rains in May, recharging the soil profile. This resulted in all treatments being at an equal point and having a full moisture profile at the beginning of June.

In the first year of the trial, there were no yield differences among the grazed and non-grazed cover crop and the no-cover crop treatments. When the value of the grazing was considered, the grazed cover crop was as competitive as no cover crop.

Is On-Farm Research for You?

“This experience has been extremely rewarding,” Herz said. “I would encourage anyone who has questions about agronomic practices that have not been researched to consider doing some on-farm research.”

Dam and Batie shared his view.

“I would encourage anyone to give it a try,” Dam said. “The more people who try it, the more we’ll know about what will work best across different types of ground.”

Batie agreed. “One of the advantages of the on-farm research is that trials are often spread across the state. The University couldn’t afford to do this many trials elsewhere.”

Batie also offered a piece of advice to other first timers: “Start early. There’s more planning than I expected. Sarah and Jenny came at it from a different angle than I’d originally planned, based on their experience doing research. Visit with your local Extension educator and kick some ideas around and let them help you.”

On-Farm Research Update meetings are underway and plans are beginning for the 2018 research projects.

“A number of projects can still be planned and evaluated in the 2018 growing season, such as starter fertilizer, row spacing, seed treatments, plant populations, variable rate planting prescriptions, and in-season fertilizer applications,” Thompson said. “Now is the time to start planning these studies. I would encourage people who are interested in doing a study to visit with an Extension Educator working with the Nebraska On-Farm Research Network. These individuals can help you plan your study so you will have confidence in your results. They can also help provide opportunities for additional data to be collected on your study, such as aerial imagery, photographs, and other measurements.”

Farmers participating in the On-Farm Research Network generally report having a positive experience and that conducting a study had a positive economic impact on their farm operation.

To learn more about the Nebraska On-Farm Research Network and how to participate, visit http://cropwatch.unl.edu/farmresearch.