By Dan Martens, Extension Technical Advisor
Each growing season brings a unique set of circumstances and results around the farm, home landscape and garden. It’s good to look at each growing season as an opportunity to learn something about the farm, home landscape or garden. It’s good to ask, “What are some things around my farm or home that I wish I could learn more about, or have the chance to see whether a specific practice or product really makes a difference?”
Some people hold to the notion that, “Life is too short to insist on learning from all of my own my mistakes.” This reflects the value of a public investment in research through a public institution like the University of Minnesota. Umpteen farmers and homeowners don’t have to try everything there is to try. The system is meant to be a process where questions and problems shared by many people can be looked at in a few selected and representative settings. The greater public can then benefit by what is learned through the research. Where the research indicates products and services that have a good chance of working well, people who have need of those products or services can try them with more assurance that they will work well.
Some people question whether there is a lot of value to some of the research that is done on very small plots rather than in field-sized trials. For some research, the purpose of using small plots is to eliminate other variables. When crop varieties are tested, it’s important to know the strengths and weaknesses of the genetic package of the varieties and to reduce the other kinds of variables across a large area of land that could be affecting the yield results that are measured.
So what’s something around your farm or home that you can try this year to make use of the opportunity to learn in the 2005 growing season?
Do you have questions about plant populations for corn or soybeans on your farm? It’s pretty easy to change seeding rates on most planters for most crops. So it’s pretty easy to run some trials on the farm. You could change the planting rate for the first 100 yards into a field on every other pass with a planter for three or rounds.
Repeating a trial three times provides a chance to determine whether the results are just a fluke, or whether the results are more consistent and dependable.
Do you question whether you can count on manure nutrient credits to meet crop needs? Some Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) offices and other agencies work with farmers to do soil tests, manure tests, and then to lay out trials to compare recommendations based on soil and manure samples compared to the normal practices on the farm. Do you question whether U of M research based fertilizer recommendations give your crop the best chance to be profitable compared to crop removal rates or some other basis for making fertilizer recommendations? It’s pretty easy on most farms to set up a trial.
Farm business management instructors, farm store agronomist, crop consultants, Extension staff are good resources to use in looking for way to do on-farm trials.
Sometimes it works well for neighbors to work together on trials when equipment can be shared. This might be the case where people are interested in looking at different tillage systems, and three or four neighbors who are doing things different ways can share equipment and conduct a trial on each farm.
It is often helpful to run trials for three or four growing seasons because of the different kinds of conditions that can develop from one year to the next.
On farm trials, can also be a good opportunity for parents and other adults in the community to work with 4H members, FFA members, or other youngsters in the community. An on-farm trial could turn into something that makes a good science class project for next school year. Youngsters can make use of some of the science, math and other skills they are learning at school by working on projects that are helpful at home. One good project is simply to keep a journal of growth and development stages for a specific crop during the growing season, or to plant a small patch of crop you’ve never grown before.
Plan for a SAFE spring work season and plan for an opportunity to LEARN something useful on your farm or around your home landscape.