Visionary Farmers Partner with Scientists; Soybean Checkoff

March 4, 2017

The race for new seed varieties, more effective crop inputs and cutting-edge equipment drives companies to innovate as farmers strive for higher yields. Farmers themselves play a large role in increasing South Dakota’s productivity by expanding the reach of soybean research.

Interest in on-farm soybean research is growing among the state’s farmers. South Dakota Soybean Research and Promotion Council (SDSRPC) funds these efforts, and South Dakota State University (SDSU) manages them. On-farm research involves testing agricultural products or processes in real-world settings with more variables than small university research plots.

“On-farm research gives us the opportunity to address what farmers see and come up with solutions,” says David Clay, SDSU professor.

Field Tested

The number of on-farm research projects grew from 40 three years ago to about 120 in 2016. Gordon Andersen of Beresford, South Dakota, is one of the participating farmers whose inquisitive nature led him to ponder ways to improve soybean production.

“I’m just naturally curious,” Andersen says. “And there are a lot of things we should test that can impact and improve yields.”

Andersen completed multiple on-farm research projects including studying the effects of adding nitrogen at various stages to increase soybean yields. He previously tested potash applications and how they impact yields. Other research he’s conducted includes planting highland and lowland corn and soybean varieties, as well as testing crops where manure has been applied to gauge response.

For Andersen, participation in on-farm projects means SDSU researchers analyze his field results.

“They’re the experts, and they help dig out the details. They make sure we put good data in so we get good data out,” Andersen adds. “A central part of the value is the fact that they can glean better data than we can.”

Andersen expects to do additional research projects in the future. He’s interested in several possibilities, including tissue sampling and the use of unmanned aerial systems with normalized difference vegetative index sensing to catch potential problems early. For him, any extra work required by the research projects is part of improving his operation and understanding of how to grow better soybeans.

“It’s well worth the effort,” Andersen says.

Multi-Faceted Research

The on-farm research effort is wide-ranging. Projects examine various topics including the influence of planting date, row spacing, seeding rate and variety on yields and nutrient uptake, how cover crops can be included in crop rotations and more.

“We try to link new technologies with appropriate management practices,” Clay says. “We may take small-plot results and ask farmers to test it in their fields. The other avenue is from farmer-driven innovations. If there is something promising, we can work with them to come up with a mechanistic way to test it.”

Clay says environmental volatility is routine, so a key component of soybean production is to manage climate variables. How soybeans respond to management practices like tillage, seed or other inputs can best be accomplished in real-world tests.

“We see different responses across landscapes,” Clay says. “We get to pick the best land in small-plot research, but farmers have soil variations across whole fields that are absent in small-plot research. This helps us capture information we otherwise would miss.”

The goals of on-farm research projects are to improve South Dakota’s overall soybean production, so a key component is sharing results. SDSRPC is currently developing a website that will house all this research data. The site should be up and running later this year.

The iGrow Soybeans Best Management Practices Manual presents results from a number of on-farm research projects, which can be downloaded at