How to Set Up Your Farm Trial

We're looking at a few common types of trials you might consider running on your farm. Running a field trial can help you see what practices would be the most profitable and effective on your fields.

Types of Field Trials

There are two types of trials commonly run on-farm:

Replicated

A replicated trial involves repeating comparisons in multiple locations. That means you can reduce the impact of experimental error and confounding variables, increasing your confidence that any differences you observe are actually caused by the factor (such as a new hybrid or a fungicide treatment) that you want to trial.

Unreplicated

An unreplicated trial involves running your comparison a single time. A risk with unreplicated trials is that confounding variables could interfere with your trial and make it difficult to interpret the data. For example, if you run a trial on a single field, applying a seed treatment to the north half of the field and not the south half, and observe higher yield with the treatment, it may be difficult to know with confidence that the treatment caused the higher yield (perhaps the north half of the field had less pest pressure, better drainage, better soil, or some other difference that actually caused the higher yield).
 

Common Methods to Lay Out Your Trial

Strip Trials

Strip trials are sections of a field that are planted or treated differently in order to compare management practices. Variables are assessed and compared in strips, usually the length of the field. For example, you might plant four to six rows, in 500-foot-long rows.

Buffers are strips that are not part of your trial and do not receive a treatment; they are set up at the edges of the field and/or between your trial strips in order to avoid any potential cross-contamination. 

setting up a strip trial on the farm

Split Field

Just like it sounds, you split a field in half and manage each half of the field differently. For example: Take an 80 acre field and split it into two 40-acre sections, planting Hybrid A plus a treatment that you want to test on 40 acres and your control (just Hybrid A) on the other 40 acres.

setting up a split field trial


Select Your Seed

FBN Seed Finder gives you access to the largest seed performance database in agriculture, powered by millions of acres of real yields—all farmer driven, totally independent and unbiased.

  • Review yield performance profiles on more than 4,700+ seeds (more than 35 million acres of data)
  • Explore real-world responses to population, nitrogen, rotation, irrigation, precipitation, planting speed, and more
  • Find the best seeds for your soil types, drainage, and irrigation status and get automated fieldseed matching
     

Selecting seed with FBN
Build a Test Plot That Works for You

Make sure you include a control (or check) section that helps you clearly show your current management plan or seed variety, so you can get an accurate comparison to your new practices. You want to be sure that any yield differences you observe between different treatments are in fact caused by the different treatments.

For example, if you’re comparing two different varieties, but one variety is planted in better soil than the other variety, it might appear that the variety has a higher yield, when in fact the yield difference was driven by the difference in soil rather than by the variety.

In-Season Management, Observations and Documentation

Whether or not you can use the information you gather from your trials will depend on how well you manage and monitor them in-season. Make sure that you are giving every part of your trial the same level of attention, only altering the one factor you are trying to assess—seed variety, row spacing, herbicide selection, etc.

Scouting, Maps and Satellite Imagery

Notebooks are a thing of the past, but documenting the details is still a mainstay. Keep excellent records so you can go back and evaluate the in-season process and your observations after harvest. Even the smallest detail may be important to determining an end result.

This recordkeeping and note-taking piece of your on-farm trials is especially important to track any variations in-field, or across fields, from weather events, such as wind and daily temperature readings, to insects, disease symptoms and any treatments and applications.

Get a Bird's-Eye View

Utilize satellite imagery and maps to see the full picture of how your field trial progresses. Satellite images also help to prioritize your scouting in-season. They are a useful tool to identify variations of growth within and between fields which can be indicative of problem areas.
compare maps with FBN

Read: Satellite Imagery Can Test, Check and Confirm: A Farmer's Perspective (5 min read)

PRO TIP

EVI satellite imagery is now accessible directly within FBN Maps and is included with FBN membership at no extra charge. By reading the light spectrums of crop images, EVI provides an indication of the stage of crop growth and health. We display three types of images—Absolute, Relative and Raw—with a 10-meter resolution to give you the best picture of what’s happening in your fields. Members can access images going back 12 months. Compare and overlay maps and satellite imagery from all of your fields.

Farmers are doing their own experiments, and using FBN to do it.

on-farm field trials guide


Sources: 
https://blog-crop-news.extension.umn.edu/2017/05/on-farm-research-trialdemonstrates.html
https://cropwatch.unl.edu/on-farm-research
https://cropwatch.unl.edu/2017/field-studies-setting-trial
https://extension.umn.edu/crop-production/how-do-research-your-farm
http://www.omafra.gov.on.ca/english/crops/field/news/croptalk/2015/ct-0315a5.htm 
http://corn.agronomy.wisc.edu/Management/L016.aspx
http://extension.uga.edu/publications/detail.html?number=B1177&title=Designing%20Research%20and%20Demonstration%20Tests%20for%20Farmers%27%20Fields#Selecting
https://www.canr.msu.edu/news/on_farm_crop_tests_can_be_powerful_tools_for_individual_farmers 
https://www.iasoybeans.com/upl/downloads/library/guide-to-replicated-strip-trials.pdf