10 Steps for Easy On-Farm Trials Execution

On-farm research is a powerful tool for farmers. For one Brandon, Manitoba farmer, conducting on-farm trials provided the data needed to confidently cut canola seeding rates without cutting yield potential or extending maturity. One Illinois farmer points to $100-$150 per acre increased profitability through on-farm trials he’s been running since 1985. 

For many farmers, on-farm experimentations are an excellent way to test out a new product or production practice on their own land. Farmers can generate their own science-backed, relevant information that supports decision-making to improve yield and crop quality. 

With precision agriculture technologies and big data, it’s easier than ever to successfully conduct agricultural field trials. Farmers can precisely plan and execute on-farm trials using GPS technology, and collecting data becomes simple with mobile applications and IoT sensors. Farmers and agronomists can use agronomic databases and agtech tools to standardize data or enrich their own data with multiple source datasets. 

There has never been a better time to start using on-farm research as a management tool to improve profitability and sustainability. Using proper on-farm trials methodology is critical to ensure results are accurate and reliable. The steps below outline how to conduct successful on-farm trials – from design to execution to data analysis!

1. Keep a clear direction in mind

Starting off an on-farm trial with a clear direction is a critical first step! Identify what specific practice or treatment you want to evaluate or test with on-farm research. Ensure that all participants and stakeholders understand what’s being evaluated and why it’s important. For example, a trial could be vital due to its connection to profitability or sustainability.

2. Ask the right scientific question

On-farm trials should start with a specific, scientific research question with a yes or no answer. The research question is often a comparison between two agronomic practices, such as: will yield be reduced when strip-tillage is used? Once the scientific question is identified, plan for the relevant variables to be measured in order to answer that question.

3. Determine the data collection process

To minimize confusion and ensure accuracy in data collection, determine standard operating procedures (SOPs) to gather data. These should be pre-determined approaches that are always used, regardless of who is gathering the data. For example, ahead of collection, data record sheets should be prepared, sample bags should be labeled, and harvesting procedures should be determined.

4. Plan for replication

Replication is a best practice for answering the research question when conducting on-farm trials. It involves repeating plots of the control AND the treatment across the farm, which provides a large dataset. Replication helps take into statistical consideration the variability that exists on the farm, such as soil variations or weed pressure differences, that could bias the results of the trial.

5. Be ready to randomize

Randomizing plots of the treatment and control is another way to control for field variability. Randomization refers to the placement of treatments and controls in blocks, which are randomly assigned in the trial area. This helps remove any bias for one practice or treatment over the other. Randomization and replication can be used together.

6. Know the site 

Take an inventory of the field history, variability, and other factors that might impact the results. Fully understanding the farm where the on-farm trial is taking place is critical for the results to be meaningful to other farmers. Documenting factors like geographic slope, soil type, drainage class, crop rotation history, tillage practices, chemical application practices, and other similar information is important for context.

7. Capture data and observations

On-farm research is time-sensitive. Collecting necessary data at the property times for the research question is critical because once that opportunity has passed, it’s not possible to get it back. Taking note of other observed factors that could influence the on-farm trial is important, too – even if those changes weren’t anticipated. 

8. Analyze results

Once data is collected, it’s time to dig in and answer that research question. There are various statistical approaches to determine if a treatment or practice had a significant impact on performance. Using statistics in data analysis is recommended because it creates confidence in the outcomes.  

9. Share the outcomes

Discuss findings and observations with farmers and researchers to wrap up the on-farm trial. This is also a good time to determine any next steps, which might include repeating the trial in a different area or deciding to put the production practice or change it into practice across a larger part of the farm.

10. Put findings to work!

The last step in conducting on-farm trials is turning the results into actions. Apply findings to future research on the same farm – or broaden the research opportunity by gaining traction with others.

With these steps outlining how to conduct successful on-farm trials, it’s possible to take farm profitability and sustainability to the next level. 

At Agmatix, we support on-farm experimentation with the user-friendly, flexible mobile app as an extension to our  Agronomic Trial Management solution. Farmers running trials can easily plan, manage, and collect data from trials. 

Agronomic trial management is critical to ensure the results of on-farm trials maintain scientific integrity and can be counted on to support decision-making. On-farm trial methodology can seem complex. But with the Agmatix mobile application, it’s easy to stay connected and follow the 10 key steps to on-farm research!