Guide to on-farm trials: Testing your yield potential

We all strive for higher yields. Year after year, farmers explore new hybrids, new fungicides, new equipment, and so on in the search of more yield and more profit. But, how do you evaluate those variables and make a decision on what to implement on your farm? Company and university trials often are abundant but local and relatable field trials may be even more valuable. A good approach to complimenting macro-studies is by conducting a side-by-side trial on your own farm.

As the field trial lead agronomist at 360 Yield Center I run trials on our products and nitrogen (N) management protocols throughout the season – both on our test plots and in conjunction with our dealers and partners. Here are some tips on how to conduct an on-farm trial of your own and insights into the trials we’re running this season.

Variable Trials
Variable Trials allow you to take one variable and isolate it within one field. Variables could be N application method, N application rate, N application timing, etc. Variable Trials can be time-consuming and tedious, as you monitor side-by-side comparisons and continuously track results. Here are a few tips on how to conduct a Variable Trial.

  • Determine a field for testing – try to pick a field with the least amount of variability (variability can be soil type, elevation, crop rotation and management history). Make sure these things are consistent.
  • Set side-by-side strips to test in the field.
  • Compare two different variables or management practices – like N timing or N rate.
  • Keep everything else the same within the field – same hybrids, same planting date, etc.
  • Monitor the field on regular intervals throughout the growing season. Take notes and capture photos of what you are seeing.
  • Look for differences in the strips, such as: plant health and color of the crop (green equals healthy), presence of disease or insects, height and size of plants. Be sure to dig plants and observe differences in roots, as well – roots often tell more of the story.
  • Capture the yield data and then compare those results with your observations from the season.

Variable Trials we’ll be conducting on our plots include side-by-side strips testing N application with 360 Y-DROP compared to standard sidedress N application. We’ll test nitrate levels twice a week in multiple locations within the field and get imagery and in-field data and observations.

System Trials
Our 360 Yield Center System Trials allow farmers to compare multiple variables and changes in entire management systems versus traditional management practices to see how a new approach can make an impact in yield.

Let’s use the example of a farmer who typically puts on all anhydrous upfront and applies fungicide with an airplane at VT. In a System Trial, the farmer would split the field so he can compare that practice to a split-nitrogen application with 360 Y-DROP between V6 and V10 and perform a fungicide application with the 360 UNDERCOVER.

  • The first key to success in a System Trial is choosing a field and areas in the field in which you will compare the two systems. These locations need to be consistent. Consistency will help reduce other variables that could cause misinterpretation of results at the end of the season. Find fields and areas of consistency by analyzing previous yield maps, soil type maps, soil tests, etc.
  • To evaluate and draw conclusions from these tests, be sure to gather data throughout the growing season such as: multiple nitrate readings, NDVI imagery, as-applied data, plant health evaluations throughout the season, historical yield maps to understand past trends in that field, and, of course, yield data from the trial.
  • Be sure also to walk each trial area (for example, each section of the field that is part of the System Trial) regularly throughout the season and take plenty of pictures and observation notes. Also, dig plenty of plants so you can compare and evaluate root systems of the plants in the different area comparisons. Often, we see differences in yield maps but don’t know why the differences occurred. By walking the field regularly and thoroughly throughout the season, you will likely be able to better understand the results.

We will be implementing several System Trials throughout the 2015 growing season in multiple areas and will be excited to share the results at our local winter meetings. We’ll also share updates on our test plots throughout the 2015 season, so check back often.

To learn more about some of our past System Trial results, listen to Gregg Sauder’s presentation from our 2015 Yield Summit. And, visit to see how our new approach to nitrogen management stacks up against traditional N management.