Bob Nielsen, Purdue University Extension agronomist, is excited. His idea of doing on-farm strip trial research with farmers that still has scientific credibility is beginning to take root. He and Jim Camberato, Purdue Extension agronomist who specializes in soil fertility questions, have collected enough data in five years, largely through on-farm trials, to issue more realistic nitrogen recommendations than they ever could before. Their recommendations vary 20 to 40 pounds per acre depending where in Indiana a farmer farms. They determined there's that mach difference in soil type form west-central to east-central Indiana to account for such a difference.
Even if you live somewhere besides Indiana, odds are interest in on-farm trials is picking up. Farmers are asking to see how various products and practices fare in more real-life situations than 100 foot long plots, although they still have their value. The secret is taking the time and getting the expertise to make sure the data will have value when you're done. Planting one half of the field in variety A and the other half in variety B and trying to compare then trying to compare the two doesn't cut it.
Two projects based out of Iowa State University in the past decade have caught on across the Corn Belt. One is the Nitrogen –rate calculator. Farmers in Iowa, Illinois, Indiana and even other states can plug in soil types, expected yields and other factors and get N rate recommendations. The numbers that come back in terms of how much N to apply are based on as up-to-date data as the coordinators of the project can collect for the area where the farmer says that he farms.
The second Program is called On-Farm Network. Started 10 years ago by a former ISU professor, it consists of dozens of farmer groups testing varying practices in different corners of the state. Most start out testing N rates, since it's such a big expense in growing corn. But they've expanded into trials based on planting rates for both corn and soybeans. Indiana has adopted this program for 2011, with 8 groups of farmers participating under the coordination of the Indiana State Department of Agriculture. It was piloted in Jasper County in Indiana last year.
Right now Nielsen is excited because he has a prominent farm leader in central Indian, Mike Shuter, Frankton, ready to do not one, but four strip trials, following Nielsen's directions. Two of the four trials will involve using optical sensors that are designed to determine how much nitrogen a crop still needs based upon reflection. Shuter had already purchased the equipment, including optical sensors, which will make these tests possible.