The Agronomists, Ep 6: Deb Campbell and Steve Larocque on the benefits of on-farm research trials


Adjusting management or adopting new products or varieties carries some risk, but that risk can be managed with an on-farm evaluation.

Setting up on-farm trials, however, can be simple and straight forward — or so complicated it’s hard to know if you really learned anything at all.

To navigate on-farm trial pitfalls and successes, this episode of The Agronomists features Deb Campbell of Agronomy Advantage, and Steve Larocque of Beyond Agronomy.

Don’t miss The Agronomists, Mondays at 8 pm Eastern on your favourite social media platform!


  • Meet our agronomists! Deb from Ontario and Steve from Alberta.
  • Why is it so imperative to test ideas on-farm?
  • Cut through the noise!
  • Your own equipment, soil, climate, and management
  • Without doing a test on-farm, you won’t really know
  • Setting goals for the trial, too
  • Even a long time ago, government extension went through cut backs. Led to a gap in extension, and that gap has widened
  • The demand for advice and advisement is only growing
  • Build a roadmap for the question you want to answer. Then, the size and scope, who is funding it, what comparisons to make, how to measure?
  • Tools are there to capture the data, and some is automatically generated.
  • But it’s time consuming, and requires observations
  • Don’t fall victim to scope creep!
  • Be realistic on whether or not you really have the time required to set up a trial and see it through
  • Josh Fankhauser video: What holds farmers back from adopting on-farm trials? Time crunch and stress more so than cost
  • 15-acre trials? As an agronomist, you want to encourage steps of change not 1,500 acres!
  • Strip trials are sometimes an accident — a plugged manifold for seed-placed phosphorus can teach all sorts of lessons and give you a great comparison
  • Good start? Fertilizer rate trials. Seeding rate trials. Easy and cost-effective.
  • What about regional/territory representation? Sometimes there is collaboration between farms or with an agronomist
  • Budgets: is it about money or acreage? Some are quite expensive (i.e. PGRs)
  • Video: Shawn Brenneman, Syngenta. How do you sift through the data and plot results? Tillage, climate, yield, test weight, etc. Is local best?
  • What about hybrid or seed selection? That can be really overwhelming. Get to the subset of values that really pertains to your soil type or growing area, for example
  • Could host trials for seed companies on your farm to get some of that data specifically for your farm
  • VR nitrogen example. Let’s talk analysis! It can take levels of data. Soil type, water holding, NDVI, etc.
  • Do you abandon based on an error or do you try and salvage?
  • Heck, screw ups ARE trials. But for Alberta, usually a hail event is what wipes out a plot. Sad face.
  • Sometimes, damage or poor emergence can become part of the trial
  • Success hinges on having a good plan, everyone knows the role, and making sure the details are covered and commitment. You’ve got to be committed to taking a trial all the way through
  • False positives? Sometimes five years on!
  • Simple also means you can actually assess one factor. Having too many layers means you end up with so much “noise” in the trial, you can’t make any clear interpretations

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