June 12, 2024

Trials focus on improved plant, soil health

Trent Nicholson (left) holds one of the plants from his high-yield soybean trials during the Yield/Profit Challenge plot tour Aug. 15 near Eureka, Illinois. Nicholson is in his seventh year of conducting research trials on his farm that utilize products that focus on improving plant and soil health.

EUREKA, Ill. — What began as an independent research project as a senior at Illinois State University has transformed into a career centered on on-farm trials that use an “outside-the-box” approach to crop production.

Trent Nicholson, owner of Yield/Profit Challenge, recently hosted his annual plot tour showcasing the products he said improve soil and plant health while balancing fertility and whole system efficiency.

Nicholson, who created Yield/Profit Challenge in 2017, is also a Pro-Soil Ag Solutions dealer, a manufacturer and distributor of natural soil nutrition and liquid plant food products that enhance the effects of fertilizer and stimulate plant growth.

How many years have you been conducting these trials?

Nicholson: This is the seventh year on this same farm. So, most of these plots would be seventh year of similar products. This is a multi-year thing to build. You can’t just expect it to work as good year one as it will year five.

How many acres of research plots do you have here?

Nicolson: I have about 15 acres in production. Each plot is roughly one-sixth of an acre. The hand plots are six one-thousandths of an acre or so.

What are some of the surprising things you’ve seen over the course of seven years of trials?

Nicholson: It’s been different every year. We’ve had different hybrids. It seems like one of the things that stayed consistent is that 30- to 68-bushel improvement. The lowest we’ve ever had is a 30-bushel improvement. That was the first year and we’ve had exactly 68 several times. That would be with the complete program. The plots include the typical applications of MAP and potash. Products added to the mix together or separate include IPS-100, Nutri-Shield, Sea-90, Micropac, Power Pro, Elevation and KS 178C.

What were some of the newer approaches you implemented on your plots this year?

Nicholson: We rearranged everything from what we had before. We were doing different fertilizer programs with the same foliar program. This year, we changed it to more of a stacked approach, starting with one product — just IPS-100 by itself, just Nutri-Shield by itself, then add Sea-90 on top of that — in side-by-side trails. We just add one product at a time in each plot until you get to the full program and high yield attempt.

You have an outside-the-box approach to find ways to improve production and profitability that goes beyond conventional crop production?

Nicholson: Not only looking outside the box, but also getting down to the fundamentals. Even when we do our research plots, we’d take out the money portion and look at what does the plant need. What is the best thing for this plant? Once you’ve figured that out, then you figure the economics of how do you make that also be efficient and pay for itself.

We do about 50 hand plots a year and that is more of the mentality that we’re using. What is best thing for this plant, regardless of money? Because on small scale you can test a product that costs $500 an acre to do. You don’t know if it’s going to pay for itself until you try it and you don’t have to put out a whole lot of money just to do a 15-by-20-foot plot.

How did you get into this research and program?

Nicholson: It started with a project my senior year at Illinois State University. I did a study on hay and Pro-Soil was one of the products I looked at. I did a couple of trials as an independent research project.

When I graduated, Pro-Soil offered me a dealership. Then I just started adding companies. Pro-Soil was the first one and I’ve added another company every couple years and now we have seven.

Tom Doran

Tom C. Doran

Field Editor