Research Fresh from the Farm

January 28, 2018

Farmers rely on the latest research to help them make important management decisions. Dozens of South Dakota soybean farmers generate relevant data by conducting independent research on their farms and the results are just a few clicks away.

The South Dakota soybean checkoff, in partnership with South Dakota State University (SDSU) Extension, sponsors the South Dakota Soybean On-Farm Research Program. The program tests products and farming practices that hold promise to increase soybean productivity and profitability. In 2017 alone, 54 farmers were involved with over 110 experiments.

Brookings, South Dakota, farmer Craig Converse is on the On-Farm Research Program advisory board. He also is a program participant, conducting tests on his farm.

“As farmers, we hear about new products and farming practices every year and wonder if they would work on my particular farm,” Converse says. “I will try a product first and evaluate it before purchasing more the next year. This program allows an in-depth analysis through SDSU to determine a product’s effectiveness. Information is then shared with producers. This is helpful to determine if other producers see similar results. The On-Farm Research Program also provides information on other products that may work on my farm.”

Complementary Resources

SDSU Plant Science Professor David Clay says the on-farm research goes hand in hand with small plot testing done by scientists on university research farms. Clay says small plot research studies often take place on high quality, uniform soils that don’t match the variability that can occur across entire fields. However, university research provides the necessary foundational data to determine if there is enough potential for farmers to test a product or farming practice on an entire field.

“Our small plots don’t necessarily match all the systems that can influence yield. We need to do both small plot and on-farm research,” Clay says. “We hesitate to do an on-farm plot without initial small plot testing because it puts farmers at risk.”

Clay says there can be significant yield responses to the same tests when conducted in small plot studies versus those done in farm fields. Soil variability, compaction and carbon storage can have a big impact.

“When we test a product, the best place to do it is in a farmer’s field,” Clay says.

“On-farm research offers a much broader test of products over different soil types and landscapes,” Converse says.

“Small plot research is still very important in order to help sort out products and it offers the first step to deciding whether or not to test something on the farm.”

At Your Fingertips

Farmers have undertaken a wide range of on-farm tests. Research examples include evaluating fertilizer rates and application timing, as well as testing biological products, fungicides, tillage techniques, cover crops and varying plant populations.

Results from all of these tests are available at the On-Farm Research website found at https://onfarmresearch. The site features an interactive map that allows farmers to click on their county to see what research has been conducted there. Site visitors can also search by research topic. The names and locations of participating farmers are not included to protect their privacy, but the results give interested farmers more information on how particular practices impact soybean productivity in their local areas.

“Farmers will be able to see studies done in their county going back three years,” Clay says.

Available information includes temperature, rainfall and other statistical analysis gathered at test sites. This information is helpful because tests on topics like seeding rates can have different results depending upon geography and weather conditions. As the program gathers more data, the picture of how practices impact profitability becomes clearer.

“As farmers use more precision technology, more data is collected and farmers can use that information to drive their decisions,” Clay says.

The On-Farm Research Program website contains more than 200 project reports. Clay says once all results from the 2017 on-farm tests are posted, that number will swell to over 300 reports.

Current research includes more than 50 reports on nitrogen fertilizer testing and nearly 30 reports each on fungicide applications, seeding rates, spacing and varieties, and plant growth regulators.

“There is a lot of value to the reports now, but as we move forward, the data set will increase and have even more value,” Clay adds.

Team Effort

Interested farmers are free to choose the research topic they want to investigate on their farms. Clay says SDSU researchers work with the farmers to help properly set up the trials, so the experiment and results are valid. Researchers conduct site visits during the growing season and help analyze the results once crops are harvested.

“We let the farmers farm,” Clay says, “but we help process the information to determine if their experiments helped them or not.”

Clay says winter is a good time for interested farmers to consider what products or techniques they would like to test the following year. Interested growers can submit their research idea on the On-Farm Research website or contact the South Dakota Soybean Research and Promotion Council at (605) 330-9942.

As more farmers participate and additional trials are conducted, the On-Farm Research Program’s data will become increasingly robust.

“If we have 20 studies showing on-farm results, we can start assigning probability to how those products or practices are going to perform,” Clay says. “We will have more value and give farmers a better idea if those practices will help them make money.”

For Converse, the on-farm trials help his farm evolve.

“I don’t farm the same as my dad and he didn’t farm the same as his dad,” Converse says. “We need to always be learning and changing in order to stay competitive. This program allows soybean producers to take a look at what products work and then consider trying them for themselves.”