In the Field at the Farm Journal Test Plots

September 29, 2011 06:00 AM

Program marks its 20th harvest of data to help farmers grow higher yields.

A Day in Ag logoThe Farm Journal Test Plots were started 20 years ago with a simple mission: help farmers grow better crops. Today, the plots in central Illinois are led by Farm Journal Field Agronomist Ken Ferrie.

"These are demonstration research trials conducted across full-sized fields," Ferrie explains. "For example, we’ll take 80 acres and replicate the trial a dozen times."

The test plots look at fertility, fungicides, seed treatments, row spacings, tillage programs and more. These trials are replicated in a variety of soil types ranging from sands to clays to muck soils. The test plot crew and cooperating farmers use full-scale equipment: 8-, 12-, 16- and 24-row planters, full-sized sprayers, nitrogen applicators, combines and more.

"The plots allow us to take concepts, ideas and equipment to the field and put them in live situations, where a farmer would look at them in half-mile or quarter-mile runs," Ferrie says.
The data is harvested with calibrated scale carts.

This year’s harvest has provided the greatest variability Ferrie has seen in 20 years of conducting the plot program.

"So far, we’ve been focusing on corn and are about to start soybeans," he explains. "But within one replication, we’ve seen 100-bu. swings. We’ll use the yield maps and NDVI maps to help understand this yield information better. Nitrogen is going to be a big factor in these plots, so we’ll need to make sure that if we are studying a fungicide, we identify how nitrogen also relates."

As for how harvest is shaping up across his area of central Illinois, Ferrie reports that it’s been a mixed bag.

"In the northern part of our territory, it has been kind of slow. But a long, slow grain fill tends to give us better yields. This can be frustrating for the farmer eager to get in the field, but the higher moistures have led to higher yields this year," he says. "In the southern part, we’ve had poor yields due to lack of rain. The low moisture has sped up harvest as farmers are chasing downed corn and some are already doing tillage."



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