Field Trials: What to Measure Beyond Yield Response


With the 2014 growing season fast approaching (we hope) you are probably wrapping up your seeding and input plans and getting antsy to get into the field. As cropping plans start to fall into place, the logical next step for many is to decide on which products or practices to test out to measure their fit on your farm.

Setting up a trial — on a small amount of land with the all-important check strip — is the best way to find new practices or products that will work for your farm and management style. We all know yield is king when it comes to trials, yes, as bushels pay the bills, but the reality is that not all products or practices are going to give you a yield response 100% of the time. If you can find something that gives you an economic response, say 75% of the time then you have found a consistent performer, from my perspective. What this means is in those years where there may not be a response you still want to find meaningful information and data that can help you to find a fit amongst another crop or in a specific situation somewhere down the road. Here are a few things to also check for throughout the growing season:

Vigour: If you are trying out a seed treatment or a new fertility plan, for example, one thing you may look at is vigour. The sooner those plants get out of the ground, and the healthier they come out, the stronger the crop. This is going to allow the crop to potentially better withstand stress, such as insect feeding or early season drought stress, for example. Don’t just look above ground, get down there and start digging up the roots as well. Take pictures and evaluate from emergence onwards. While you’re down there, make sure to evaluate how close you got to the optimal plant stand count, as well.

Standability: Some products out there have the potential to increase the stem strength of many different crops. Or maybe you want to simply evaluate a different variety or fertility plan. If you have a crop that is standing, then that crop is better able fill the heads or pods, has less disease potential and can also mean less harvest losses or a quicker harvest, which is worth something at the end of the day as well.

Efficacy Assessments: Some years are better than others for measuring efficacy of herbicides and fungicides. Fungicides especially can be tough to evaluate if the weather never really favoured disease development, but that doesn’t mean the product didn’t work well. If you’re trialing a new product, be out there checking efficacy percentages, not just measuring final yield. If you are seeing a higher disease incidence, for example, on the check, in a higher pressure situation that potential 10% variation in disease control could be the difference between having a green flag leaf or a brown, spotted one that significantly hurts yield.

These are just a few examples of what else you can look for in trials. Think about trialing things that are likely to have an impact on a specific crop’s yield potential. We often write products off after one year of trials because of a lack of response, but sometimes there is value in doing more work with that product or practice. Lastly, focus on the ones you feel are important. It is often tempting to do many, many trials, but then our ability to grab data drops off and instead of having two or three trials where we learned a lot, you have five or six trials that get lost in the shuffle or maybe ended up getting abandoned in the interest of time. An on-farm trial should eventually help you make a management decision moving forward — keep that in mind when decided what to evaluate this year.

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