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From test plots to field studies

By Staff | Nov 15, 2013

CHAD HUFFMAN, left, and Josh Sievers remove the lid from one of the tile collection sumps.

SUTHERLAND-Josh Sievers said farmers are a naturally curious people. It’s why the Iowa State University Northwest Research Farm near Sutherland works.

“Farmers are often skeptical,” saidSievers, an eight-year veteran of the research farm and superintendent for the past year and a half. “They can see it in a 50-foot plot and it’s fine, but they don’t always know if it will work in their fields.

“But more often than not, they see results that are very compatible.”

The Northwest Research Farm on U.S. Highway 59 near Sutherland is one of four research farms in the state owned by ISU.

It’s part of the ISU Farmer Assisted Research Management Network.

CHAD HUFFMAN, an ISU ag specialist at the research farm, enters plot yield data into the computer.

The Sutherland plot is made up of 280 acres, divided into individual plots on which they experiment with variables such as nitrogen, fertilizer, fungicides and insecticides.

ISU professors devise experiments to try, which are carried out at research farms.

Workers are careful about studying only one variable per project so the results are clear, Sievers said.

Their experiments focus largely on variables of tillage practices, planting rates, moisture conservation and crop variety testing.

Results are recorded, and workers take that information to local farmers to try in their fields.

JOSH SIEVERS finishes working on a combine at the research farm before storing it for the winter. Data collected each year is disseminated to ISU researchers and professors, as well as to local farmers.

To date, Sievers said, there are 21 local farmers working on 58 different research projects. There are appoximate 24 concurrent experiments annually.

“The goal is to recruit a group of farmers and take ideas from the research farm and ideas that farmers have, and put them to field scale tests,” Sievers said. “That way they can see the results in a full field test the same as they see them in a 50-foot plot. It makes the results more credible to the farmer.”

The farms have conducted tests on soybean seeding rates, land roller tests regarding yield differences, fungicide use on corn and soybeans, and more.

Sievers said growth with local farmers was slow at first, but after seeing results and getting to try them in their fields, participation has snowballed.

On-farm testing began in 2006. He said it’s amazing to him that so many farmers participate because the work of it affects them during their two busiest seasons of the year.

CHAD HUFFMAN, an ISU ag specialist at the Northwest Research Farm, installs drain line on one of the tile collection sumps.

“My hat is off to guys who will take time to do this during the spring and fall,” Sievers said. “They learn on their own farms and will provide that information to growers all around Northwest Iowa.

“They don’t get paid for their time, but they’re willing to inform everyone else how the results they find in their own fields will affect their bottom line.”

One of the myths they’ve had to overcome is that finding no difference for a specific variable means they didn’t find any conclusive results.

“We still learn even if there is no difference in yield data,” Sievers said. “Finding no yield data difference is still good data. One of my favorite farmer lines is, ‘You can’t manage what you don’t measure.’ That goes for any good business.”

Sievers said he appreciates local farmers are involved with the experiments and disseminating of the recorded data.

“Farmers are most credible to other farmers,” he said. “Those farmers who do a good job carry weight in their communities, and people pay attention to that.”

This summer, the Sutherland farm began a $160,000 tile study on its northeast corner.

They will monitor the amount of tile water coming from a 40-acre area, as well as the contents of the tile water. The area is split into 32 different grids, and they will measure the amount of tile water coming through, take sub-samples and determine its contents, including nitrogen rates.

“We will look at crop rotations, tillage practices and a few other things that could cause a difference in the tile water,” Sievers said. “It could take awhile for the information to come around.”

Some of their more surprising yield data came this growing season, Sievers said, when yields were better than expected even thought corn was planted in three days, and it topok six weeeks for soybean planting due to a wet spring.

“It takes us a long time to plant our field here because it’s divided into so many different plots, and we do different tillage on some and other experiments on other areas,” he said. “So getting (the corn) done in three days was really amazing.”

Sievers said they found soybean fungicides showed a “nice response” of a 2-bushel-per-acre increase on both the small plot and field scale tests.

Factors there included differing soil types and the number of rains those areas received.

Sievers said he spends his winters at Extension meetings and conducting workshops, meeting with local farmers and running through their findings with them, sharing their own plot findings as well as those of local farmers who have participated in the research.

Last year there were 11 field days in Northwest Iowa conducted by the research farm, with more than 1,500 people attending or visiting the farm. The topics included:

  • Soil moisture, effects of tillage and phosphorous sources on long-term phosphorus runoff loss and crop yield.
  • Corn and soybean production with a winter rye cover crop.
  • Long-term tillage and crop rotation effects on soil carbon and soil productivity.
  • Influence of land rolling on soybean production and associated weeds.
  • Aphids in corn and soybeans.
  • Evaluating foliar fungicides and insecticides on soybeans in Northwest Iowa.

Chad Huffman, an ag specialist with ISU and one of the two workers at the Sutherland research farm, said his job is to concentrate only on the test plot.

He said farmers are worried about water hemp, which he said was a large problem in 2013 for farmers in a large area. Round-up resistance is also something he said they have been addressing and will continue to address on the research farm.

Huffman said they haven’t worked with variable rate technology yet, but he sees that coming. He said they could experiment with different soil types and synchronized row widths. They currently utilize wide rows in their plot testing.

Huffman said he likes his job at the research farm. The farm has been at that location since 1989, but was first located east of Sutherland in 1954.

“Every day is different,” he said.

ISU has three similar research farms across the state – Kanawha, in north central Iowa; Ames, in central Iowa; and Louis, in southwest Iowa.

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