How On-Farm Experiments Can Improve Your Bottom Line
Since 1985, Illinois farmer Marion Calmer has been doing his own on-farm experimentation. And as a result of those decades of research, he’s made every corn and soybean acre $100-$150 more profitable.
He’s not the only farmer who can thank on-farm studies for improving his bottom line. Mississippi farmer Thomas Hairston shared with Farm Journal that his on-farm research proved lower cotton populations were the most profitable. Participating in a multi-year study with the Practical Farmers of Iowa revealed to Jack Boyer he can reduce his nitrogen rate in corn. And Farm Progress reports that farmers participating in the Nebraska On-Farm Research Network gained an average $31.25 per acre.
But even if an on-farm experiment doesn’t result in a change that benefits the bottom line, it’s still valuable information.
“The purpose of doing on-farm research is not only showing me the profit potential, but it’s where I gained the confidence to make a change in my operation,” Calmer says in his YouTube video. “You can’t go out overnight and say, ‘I’m going to do something new.’ You’ve got to gain the confidence from some place, that’s what the on-farm research has done for me.”
It’s clear that putting in the effort to do your own on-farm experimentation can pay off. And with the help of technology, it’s easier than ever to set up and run your own trials.
Defining On-Farm Experimentation
As defined in a Nature Food article, on-farm experimentation is “an innovation process that brings agricultural stakeholders together around mutually beneficial experimentation to support farmers’ own management decisions.” The research occurs in farmers’ fields, at scales meaningful to them.
There are six principles of on-farm experimentation:
- Farmer centric: Farmers fuel the research process
- Real systems: Uses farmers’ own management and scales
- Evidence-driven: Insights are anchored in data
- Expert-enabled: Specialists add value
- Co-learning: Emphasis on engaging by sharing
- Scalable: socializing mechanisms
While there are benefits to collaborating with ag extension personnel, scientists and other farmers in research, growers are not limited to doing meaningful research with others. As long as they understand the basic principles of designing and executing a trial, growers can succeed with their own independent studies. Especially if they can tap into the power of precision ag technologies and digital tools.
Technology Key to On-Farm Experiments
Precision ag has made it easier than ever for farmers to conduct their own experiments and farmers are seizing the opportunity. John Fulton, an ag engineer at The Ohio State University, told CropLife that results from a recent survey found that nearly 85% of growers using precision ag technology are doing on-farm experiments.
GPS guidance can pinpoint trial boundaries, input application technologies can make sure a product is applied at the right rate in the right place, and yield monitors make for easier data collection.
Growers can also use precision ag to identify potential research areas. Yield maps can identify yield inconsistencies throughout a field, while aerial imagery can detect potential pest problems, wet spots, or other issues worth exploring.
But just because these technologies make it easier to execute on-farm experiments, they don’t guarantee that a farmer is setting up their trials properly or interpreting the data correctly.
To make sound decisions based on the results of a research study, the trial must be set up for replication and randomization. It’s not uncommon for a grower to do a simple side-by-side trial, with half the field under treatment and the other half the control plot. But as NC-ANR Academy explains, replicating and randomizing treatments is what allows the data to be statistically verified, so farmers can be confident the results of the trial are due to the treatment and not by chance or other factors. Without the assistance of digital tools to design these trials, growers are at risk of investing time and resources into a study that may not produce usable information.
Kansas State University Research and Extension precision ag economist Terry Griffin, who is a member of the Frontiers in On-Farm Experimentation, also points out that farmers are still missing a standardized way to collect data and easily use it to benefit their operations. He calls for the need of “automated, rigorous computer algorithms,” to prevent human bias, saying that “even the best scientists sometimes have a bias to them.”
Agmatix App Simplifies Trial Setup, Data Collection and Interpretation
Agmatix recognizes the need to better design on-farm experiments, collect data easily and have confidence in the results. Which is why we’ve launched the free Agmatix app for on-farm experimentation for growers.
Whether a grower is online or offline, the app will help them conduct an experiment without any assistance. In a matter of seconds, they can set up basic trial information, set the treatments so they’re both replicated and randomized, set the desired measurements, and have a standardized way to collect research data that is preserved and secure. The app can also statistically analyze the data so they can have confidence in the decisions they make based on the results.
The app we’re launching will also help connect interested farmers with ongoing trials near them, as well as past trial data on relevant crops and products they may be interested in.
The Agmatix app is free and supported on both Apple and Android devices.
And if you need help taking your on-farm experiments to the next level, our Agronomic Trial Management software can help you plan out a statistically verified trial, guide you with end-to-end trial management, standardize collected data, and provide valuable insights based on the results.