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How Useful Is Test Plot Information?

Aug 11, 2011

Question: I know you like and reference test plot information a lot, but I question how useful that information really is for farmers?

Answer: I understand what your concern is and there certainly is some validity to it. There is a difference between what I call show plots and test plots. Show plots have value in demonstrating higher-end genetics, but they are typically planted next to a road to show off hybrid performance in ideal conditions. Show plots may have received extra nitrogen and two fungicide applications. Show plot results may be meaningless. Actual test plots are another matter, and they do deserve your consideration. These are plots that are able to help guide your seed choices for the next year. But you have to know how to use that information and whether it’s worth considering. The ones you want to key into are the ones that were planted with soil, climate and management practices similar to your own. Taking factors like these into account may add another 15 to 20 bushels per acre for you, compared with picking hybrids based on general plot performance. Also, look at regional plot data over a period of years. It will tell you if a hybrid is or isn’t suited to your conditions. I also recommend that farmers test-drive new hybrids by planting their own test plot or teaming up with a neighbor. If you don’t plant your own test plot, pay close attention to other local plots. Also, tell your seedsman what you want to see in hybrid comparisons and management practices. He may be able to set up some test plots that will be helpful to you.
The Farm Journal Test Plots were founded by Ken Ferrie and Charlene Finck to help farmers raise more bushels. Twenty years later, that mission is the driving force behind the effort.
One of the goals of the Farm Journal Test Plots is to stay up-to-date with emerging technologies that can help you farm more efficiently and take yields higher. In the past five years, one of the biggest technologies to come on the scene has been NDVI (Normalized Difference Vegetation Index) mapping.
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