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Tips for Conducting Your Own On-Farm Trials

Producers can run their own on-farm research trials to test how a particular practice or product performs in the local environment. Trials can test things like the difference in performance between 60 and 120 pounds of nitrogen fertilizer per acre or between treated and untreated acres, or evaluate return on investment for new and novel products.

Start with a Simple Plan

A two treatment trial (new vs. normal) keeps the trial simple. The more treatments and areas used the more complicated and harder to manage the trial becomes.

Select the Test Area and Replicate

Longer strips produce more reliable results, and it is recommended to aim for 750 ft. or more. For width it is recommended to have a treated width that is wider than the harvester width. This will ensure that the area harvested keeps fully within the treatment area.

Put strips of treated vs. untreated crops in a uniform part of the field or, if this is not possible, choose an area of the field that reflects the field as a whole. Complete uniformity is never possible which is why it is important to replicate the strips.

Try a few untreated and treated strips in the same block (four of each is ideal) within the same field or, for a more accurate comparison, replicate these blocks in different areas of the farm and in different years. Replication will increase your confidence that differences between the treatments are the result of the treatments and not because of other uncontrolled factors, such as weather.

Control Other Variables

Make sure that the treated and untreated strips are the same variety, seeded the same day, with the same tools, and follow the same practices for other factors not being tested, such as weed control, harvesting etc.

If it's a fertilizer trial, have detailed soil sample results for the treatment area to help rule out natural variation.

Weigh the Results

Harvest all treatments on the same day. Cut through the middle of each strip to avoid edge effects and combine each row separately. Using a weigh wagon can help you get the most accurate yield data for each strip. Measure the exact length and width of each strip and make sure to empty the combine hopper after each treatment.

Keep Notes

Record things like weather conditions, soil moisture, seeding dates, pest pressures, harvest date, harvest quality, and anything else you can think of and that may be relevant to the results. This will help you to create scenarios where a product or practice may or may not work.

Get Advice

Agronomists with experience in on-farm trials can provide help on set up, harvest, and evaluation, and they may also be able to access tools such as weigh wagons.

Evaluate the Results

Something that produces higher yield may not increase profitability, make life easier, or reduce risk, all factors that should be considered during evaluation. To evaluate a return on investment, you need to know the average treatment response, the expected sale price, and the cost of treatment. Accuracy of these results will increase with more replications and site years.  

Original Article Referenced from the Canola Council of Canada

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