By Dusty Sonnenberg, CCA, Ohio Field Leader

Most Ohio farmers will agree that 2019 will go down in the history books as a year with tremendous variability. For those who conduct on-farm research, variability is one thing they attempt to reduce. One way to help reduce variability is to have a plan before you go to the field. A plan that is designed to have multiple replications of the various components can give you options.

“If you have a plan, you will be more likely to implement it when you go to the field,” said Elizabeth Hawkins, OSU Extension, Agronomic Systems Field Specialist. “If changes need to be made due to changing conditions, you will be more likely to have options available that allow you to maintain the integrity of the research and not compromise the reliability of the results.”

Elizabeth Hawkins, OSU Extension Agronomic Systems Field Specialist

Hawkins feels that learning what works in different years is critical.

“I am excited about the 2019 research, and the potential of what we can learn in what may become a new normal with the changing environmental conditions,” she said.

Challenging conditions can result in very useful data with the proper plan.

“As our weather variability continues into the future, data in unique years can be even more valuable as we can compare it to similar challenging years. This will be more true as heavy, infrequent, unpredictable weather events continue,” said Eric Richer, OSU Extension educator in Fulton County. “Even if farmers are doing on-farm research for their own purposes, the more replications they have planned, the better the results will be. I tell farmers there should be a minimum of four replications, and actually recommend six replications if possible so that if a couple are compromised, there are still a sufficient number available to gather the data from.”

In some cases, there is value in “data cleaning” when doing the final analysis.

“If you start your on-farm research plan with a randomized complete block design, it allows for weather occurrences and other unforeseen factors. Exceptions can be made when data cleaning and those exceptions can be thrown out,” Richer said.

Factors that can compromise the on-farm research include everything from planter or sprayer mechanical error, to intense weather events, to yield monitor calibration issues, to unknown field or plot physical factors such as compaction zones.

“Compaction is a huge issue this year,” Hawkins said. “Precision U will have a session on Jan. 8, 2020 focusing specifically on mitigating the compaction issue.”

Precision U is a program hosted by The Ohio State University and the Digital Ag Team to help farmers make better management decisions. This specific program will help those in attendance learn how to minimize compaction and maximize soil productivity.

One tip that Hawkins gives all farmers, regardless of the level of research they are conducting is to calibrate their equipment.

“Accurately calibrating equipment is very important in reducing variability,” she said. “Farmers need to calibrate for the different scenarios they may encounter.”

Taking good notes throughout the season is also important.

“Making notes of any replant that had to be done, or marking any drowned-out spots, noting patterns observed during harvest, anything that a farmer observes that stands out will be useful when cleaning-up the data,” she said. “Often the replants and drowned out spots can be ‘clipped-out’ to prevent bias in the data.”

Hawkins reminds farmers that the OSU Extension Digital Ag Team and County agriculture educators are available and willing to help both in planning on-farm research trials prior to when the season begins, and also can help make suggestions to clean up the data once harvest is complete.

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