Guides For Your On-Farm Research
Since the early 1980s, our mentors for research integrity behind farm products and practices were Dick and Sharon Thompson, a farm couple from Boone, Iowa. Dick Thompson has now passed on to many rewards in Heaven.
They were instrumental in founding the research and sharing organization, "Practical Farmers of Iowa" in 1985. PFI now includes 1,500 members and a broad array of highly energized crop and livestock farmers. Many members have followed the group's research findings into more "sustainable" farming systems and away from what has become the conventional GMO/chemical, corn/soybean habit. Check out Practical Farmers of Iowa's site at this link.
We often repeat Dick Thompson's comment: "Show me the data."
And we've learned to fully appreciate that good random-rep data is hard to get. The first year we tested WakeUP on 30 farms, we arranged careful strip trials using the Practical Farmers random-rep protocol. That fall — 2009 — we received four usable sets of yield data. Our farmer friends really tried, but bad weather hit some, the combine monitor failed others, somebody mowed off the marker flags and so on. Fortunately, our expanding client base and innovative growers keep sharing information.
The facts are that in a season of abundant rainfall and with high-quality soils here in the upper Midwest, one treatment with WakeUP on soybeans typically "shows" a 3 to 5 bu. yield benefit the first season it's tried under typical field strip trial conditions. And on corn, that range is often 4 to 10 bushels. Unless you measure strip trials precisely with a weigh wagon and moisture meter, that response is hard to "see" in 65-bu. beans and 195-bu. corn. One of our research-oriented neighbors, Alan Karkosh, tells us that "It's hard to find anything that consistently gives me a 5-bu. yield gain."
Five bushels of soybeans and 10 bu. of corn is worth pursuing, especially if the risk is only about $6 per acre for WakeUP.
As usual, small plot trials show greater responses to most field treatments such as fertilizers and seed varieties. But we really like the PFI approach of side by side "strip" trials completely across a field because the product or practice is thus tested across a wide range of soil variability. And soil variability dominates as the major source of variation in most field tests.
Thus we've adapted the PFI test protocol for your use. It's a lot easier to perform now, with ready availability of weigh wagons and GPS combine yield monitors, plus GPS maps of applied products. We've attached a PDF copy of our research layout instructions, and also a form you can use to record yield data.
We take one "liberty" with our approach: Our statistician advises that we can set up field trials in alternating treated and untreated strips, like the stripes on a flag. PFI prefers to randomize each pair, with the purpose of minimizing the field effect. That imposes a chore which few farmers are willing to do when they're in a hurry, which is always. So we perform the randomization statistically, using either the left or right control strip for T-tests. This will make sense when you scan the PDF of the strip trial instructions. Please download it here, and print it out for your reference.
Here's another very helpful on-farm research aid: A Renewable Farming research data form you can use to document your data. We'll be glad to run the statistics on multiple-plot trials for you, and give you a clearer idea of whether you really, really gained something in a particular test. We will maintain this form here on the site in case you need to download it again. Click here to download the "WakeUP data collection sheet" in PDF format.
Please call us with any questions regarding on-farm tests.
And yes, we are very keen on hearing crop responses which are simply one field versus another, or part of a field. Farmers tell us that crop consistency tends to even out following three or four years of using WakeUP. Those are valuable observations from keen managers. And we try to understand the possible causes — such as gradual humus buildup from several years of larger root mass.
Even if you don't do random trials, here are simple ways to gain insights as you test WakeUP(especially when you use it to mobilize other nutrients).
1. Dig. One of our most-admired on-farm researchers was H. W. Hostetler, the legendary founder of Prairie Hybrids near Deer Grove, Illinois. "In summer, the spade in the back of your pickup should always shine, without a bit of rust," he often quipped when we studied corn roots on his family's farm. His sons maintain that tradition. Another mentor, Dave Larson, founder of AgriEnergy Resources, hammered home that lesson as we traveled nationwide with him.
We urge farmers to check the roots of treated versus untreated crops several times during the season. In 2012, a drought year, we began to get more responses from farmers who actually followed our encouragement. Jerry Gibson of Chula, MO, did that and said he was amazed at the differences he saw on soybeans. And soybeans are a little harder to study than corn, because soybean roots are so fragile.
Here are some examples of what you can see underground, which is the primary response zone for a V2 application of WakeUP.
First, the roots should have more root hairs. There should be more dirt clinging to the roots, as in the nearby photo. The roots in the photo have been washed, but even so the roots "with WakeUP" are generally darker.
Second, root penetration should be deeper.
Third, roots in the aerobic zone (top three to eight inches depending on your soil quality) should have a dark coating which is evidence of beneficial bacteria and mycorrhiza.
2. Split some stalks to examine circulation health inside. The first signal to watch for, even as early as V5 or V6, is any plugging in the root crown. In 2012, Goss's wilt was showing up in root crowns first, then the residue of dying cells began darkening the first and second nodes.
Here is an example of what you will hopefuly see, in the photo nearby: The root crown is pretty clean and the nodes remain quite open. The nodes are especially important; that's where the "sieve tubes" are — and they're critical to rapid transfer of soil moisture and nutrients.
3. Begin building a database of tissue tests. A complete tissue test can be done for less than $30. This includes primary nutrients like NPK, plus the micronutrients. If you're applying glyphosate, chances are high that you'll have a deficiency in some of the micros, like Manganese or Zinc, for a week or so after glyphosate is applied. We depend on Midwest Labs in Omaha, NE, or International Ag Labs in Fairmont, MN.