April 14, 2024

ISA launches on-farm trial network

Stacy Zuber

URBANA, Ill. — The Illinois Soybean Association has launched an effort to develop an on-farm trial network to assess and evaluate production practices.

“We’re planning to ramp this up throughout the year, hopefully to start putting more of these in place this fall. We are looking for farmers to participate,” Stacy Zuber, ISA research data scientist, said during the organization’s recent Soybean Summit.

“We’re also looking for ideas for what kind of topics we should attach first, what the farmers’ concerns and how can we ask the right question to address these as soon as possible.

“Our goal is to create this on-farm trial network across Illinois so that we can do on-farm research and really address the concerns and challenges that farmers are facing so that we can kind of help farmers optimize their system, minimize risk and maximize their resilience.

“We want to address some of the issues in the Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy, trying to get more cover crops, no-till and other conservation practices adopted. We want to see how we can make those work better for farmers.

“And for any other issue they’re dealing with, be able to try to give them as much information, practical recommendations, and do that on-farm across the state.”

Three Option Levels

Three main components of on-farm trials for network with various levels of intensity and effort — demonstration, action and legacy trials.

Demonstration trials are more flexible, but less rigorous, that can include small acreage or an entire field, with check strips for observational and qualitative information.

“In the demonstration trials, we’re trying to demonstrate practices. These are going to be the least intensive for the farmer. We’re not planning to do the replicated strips on there. This is purely observational,” Zuber said.

“We may do some tissue testing or soil sampling to get numbers out there, but we’re not planning to use this to do statistical analysis. The goal of this is to be able to test things and see if it’s worth doing more work into it or maybe it’s just to show farmers at field days.”

Action trials are flexible and prioritize current issues and problems. It will include split field action trials that are flexible.

“We want to be able to respond to issues that come up and respond to questions and concerns that farmers have. We can change these from year to year. These will be relatively short term, just a few years likely for most of these, but the goal with these is to be able to get actionable guidance and recommendations to you to fit your operational needs,” Zuber said.

“We can do these on a smaller scale. Maybe there’s an issue that comes up only in the southern or northwest Illinois, and we can do trials in these areas. These will be replicated with three to four replications in a field and we’ll do some sort of control versus treatment. So, they will be more complicated, but relatively short term.”

Legacy trials focus on soil health measurements and management through long-term conservation tillage practices and cover crops.

“These trials focus on conservation practices like cover crops, no-till, even strip-tillage. They also focus on soil health. It takes a long time to see those changes in the soil. So, we need to make sure we have trials that are set up and in place long enough to see those differences. These will be more of a long term and probably the most intensive of our trials,” Zuber said.

The trials will be replicated and with different treatments and control in place. Four legacy trials have already been established and ISA hopes to add more around the Prairie State.

ISA continues to fund university research trials through the state, but now adds a focus on on-farm research to the portfolio.

“The research is done on a working farm. It’s using large enough plots to allow for standard field equipment and practical data collection,” Zuber said.

“The on-farm research trials have clearly defined methods of experimental design with replications and statistical analysis so we can get results that we can interpret so we can start to detect the signal from the noise.”

Sign Up

Farmers who want to sign up for these trials can go to the Soybean Production Survey on ISA’s ILSoyAdvisor website.

The survey covers topics, concerns and issues that farmers have that could be implemented in on-farm trials to find answers. The survey also has a place for farmers to sign up to participate in the trials.

ISA would then reach out to the farmer to identify what trial would work best for their operation. The acreage used in the trials will depend on which one the farmer chooses.

“It’s going to take more acreage to do some of the replicated trials because we want to use field scale equipment. It takes more space, more land to do the replications,” Zuber said.

“But something like our demonstration trials, that could be just doing your regular practices over most of the field and then do a check strip with something different, or the reverse where you’re trying something new and you do a check strip of your old practices.

“Our goal is to be flexible to be able to try different things. If it doesn’t work, we may not do it again, but we want to try it and see how well we can make it work for the farmers.”

Tom Doran

Tom C. Doran

Field Editor