Test Plots from the Hefty Farm

By Brian Hefty

If you are not trying several new things on your farm each year, you may be falling behind others when it comes to yield and profitability.  As Darren and I travel around the country and around the world, we find the best farmers have one big thing in common – they do a lot of experimenting because they are not afraid to fail.  However, most of these experiments are conducted on a small scale, and that’s what we’d advise you to do, too.

You may test different seed varieties, insecticides, fungicides, biological products, fertilizers, rates or application timings on any of these things – there are a whole host of things you can look at.  Keep in mind there is no silver bullet out there.  Nothing will instantly double your yields or your profits.  However, if you manage each little detail of your farm well, I absolutely believe it’s possible to achieve greater success than you’ve already reached, no matter what your starting point is.

If you are going to run some trials on your farm, there are a few key things you should try to achieve:

  1. Perhaps the most important thing is to make sure you take as many variables out of the equation as possible.  If you are testing a fertility product, for example, it would be nice if the seed planted, the herbicide used, and the insecticide applied were all the same.
  2. The most commonly overlooked part of running on-farm trials is to have enough replications.  If you can split the planter and have test – check – test – check – etc. 20 times across the field, your data will be much more statistically useful.  If you’re doing nothing more than splitting a field in 2, you in effect have 1 rep, 1 year, in 1 field.  The odds of getting useful and helpful information from this are considerably less.  If possible, I’d like to see 8 to 12 replications on anything you are testing.  When you do that, you can feel pretty confident in the data you get.
  3. Carefully check your yield data.  This is especially true with low cost inputs.  For example, inoculant may only cost you $2 in soybeans.  On $12 soybeans if you gain 1/3 of a bushel, you double your money.  The biggest challenge is correctly measuring your yield gain.  Will a 1/3 bushel difference show up normally on your yield monitor?  No way.  So how can you get accurate data?  First, I suggest calibrating your yield monitor.  Next, when you are looking at yield maps you may need to set different colors for every 1 bushel or less.  It can be done on most software programs.  Then, I recommend resetting your yield monitor’s total weight every pass through the field when you are harvesting test areas.  In other words, get a total weight from your yield monitor for each pass and each trial.  Finally, if you are very concerned about this, use a weigh wagon.  On our farm, our grain carts have scales, so everything is weighed right in the field.  Here again, though, you can make your data better if you give it a little extra effort.  If your scale only has 20 pound breaks, you can use weights placed on your weigh wagon to get a more accurate and exact reading.

I know it is work to do all these things, but if you can find even 1 thing each year that definitely makes money for your farm, that could dramatically help your bottom line.  Especially when commodity prices are good, there are LOTS of extra things you can do to bump yield and put a few extra net dollars in your pocket each year.