On-Farm Precision Research

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Data analysis is the emphasis as farmers have the ability to gather many forms of data during planting, pesticide applications and harvest time. Then add in what an agronomist/crop consultant can provide related to soil fertility, topography, soil type, electric conductivity, seed variety and more.

If this much data can be gathered, it would appear that recommendations for fields should be 100 percent correct to maximize return on investment, but there always seems to be something to “research” from year to year to make improvements field to field. But most farmers are not qualified to conduct “true research.”

Farmers think they are doing research when in actuality they are doing side-by-side, observation or demonstrations plots, said Larry Wagner, agronomy field specialist, South Dakota State University Extension, during the Ag Connect equipment show.

Larry WagnerLarry Wagner “Data collection and analysis is what we have to do. I cannot imagine a better time than now for doing on-farm research,” Wagner said in reference to all the precision agriculture data collection technology available.

“There is research and then there is scientific research, and I really think we are at a point where we can raise the bar a huge amount with on-farm research and getting this scientific research in the mix, but it must be based on empirical or measurable evidence,” he said.

Because each field is different, research and data from one field is not transferable to another field with the degree of variability that can be measured with today’s data collection. Wagner recommends researching only two options at a time.

Kelly Robertson, owner of Precision Crop Science, is an independent crop consultant and an ag precision service provider for data analysis. He gets involved with helping farmers establish on-farm research. He provided examples of the good and bad related to gathering data while presenting at the National Alliance of Independent Crop Consultants.

One simple example he talked about was two farmers wanting to evaluate 15-inch rows for corn production. He assisted one with randomized replicated plots using the same hybrid at the same plant population as 30-inch row populations, which basically only showed that 15-inch rows equalled 30-inch rows in yield. 

Kelly RobertsonKelly Robertson The other farmer bought two different hybrids from four different seed companies and increased the seed population above what was in the field’s 30-inch rows. All that the farmer proved was that higher populations resulted in higher yields, but he wrongly interpreted the results as showing that 15-inch rows outperformed 30-inch rows.  

More complicated comparisons, such as strip trials going across changing soil types and different elevations, can generate precision data statistics too sophisticated for a farmer to evaluate, Wagner noted.  “The main thing with all these statistics is to get help because it is extremely important that you know you spent your summer doing something worthwhile and accomplished something,” he said.

Steve CubbageSteve Cubbage Robertson and other service providers see their value to farmers as being more important than ever because of all the data that has to be gathered, analyzed and interpreted. Steve Cubbage, president of Prime Meridian LLC, explained the need for a service provider like himself helping farmers who are incorporating precision ag into their operations. He spoke at last year’s AgGateway annual meeting.

Cubbage is adamant that unaffiliated, independent service providers need to be the data cop for gathering and interpreting—a trustworthy source of analysis and securing data.  He said gathering all the data from various sources and precision systems is like being a “modern day cat herder” serving the farmer.

Whether it be every day precision farming or on-farm research, farmers need numbers from technology that can be compiled in a significant way. Wagner said, “It is extremely important to figure the probability and chances of repeating positive results.”


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