Takeaways from on-farm research in Ohio’s State’s eFields report
On-farm research can be a valuable tool when finding ways to improve profitability on your farm. Precision agriculture technologies make conducting on-farm research simpler than ever before. Many farm management softwares offer the ability to plan replicated projects, including embedding projects within prescription maps for installing within a field. The technology makes it simple to install and evaluate with the use of yield monitors and other sensors that collect in-season data including remote sensed imagery.
Today, we see farmers, consultants, and extension personnel installing field trials to answer farm questions using farm data. They are able to improve decision-making by evaluating different practices, products, and rates on their own farm.
In a 2017 United Soybean Board supported survey of soybean farmers using precision agriculture, 84% indicated they are conducting on-farm research. This same survey of technology savvy soybean farmers found 92% were already sharing data with partners outside the farm operation and actively using technology in soybean production. 96% are using data collected as a direct input for management decisions.
At Ohio State University, the Digital Ag Team developed the eFields program in 2017, as a means to partner directly with Ohio farmers to conduct on-farm research that informs both learning and science. Simply, eFields is a program dedicated to advancing production agriculture through the use of field-scale research and annually publishes a report summarizing trial results for each growing season. To-date, three eFields reports have been published for the 2017, 2018 and 2019 productions seasons. These reports can be found at the eFields website: https://digitalag.osu.edu/efields.
The 2019 eFields report is a culmination of 88 on-farm research sites, conducted in over 30 Ohio counties. Precision ag technologies were used to conduct these studies on a variety of topics. While the 2019 growing season was unique and led to various farm production issues, the eFields team members were able to adapt by adding new studies in early summer that dealt with cover crops and forages.
The report also addresses Farm Bill questions and information about policy changes in response to the challenges of the season. According to the USDA NASS reports, 2019 was recorded as the slowest corn planting progress since NASS reports began in 1979, and the delayed soybean planting pace was similar to the pace reported in 1981 and 1989. Soybean planting continued past mid-July before reaching completion in several counties. Soybean population studies continue to indicate the economic optimum seeding population is between 120,000 and 140,0000 seeds/ac.
For corn, the 2019 economic optimum seeding rate for corn averaged between 32,000 to 34,000 seeds/ac. However, the largest yield variations in corn population trials were primarily due to field location and not population. The 2019 corn and soybean population trials indicated the importance of seeding population selection on field profitability. Corn nitrogen management results showed that timing and placement impact N efficiency and yield. Similarly for fertility, using manure to side-dress corn as a replacement for inorganic fertilizers continues to indicate a profitable return. Finally, a 2019 Ohio field survey for soybean cyst nematode (SCN) indicated 54% of the fields had zero, 37% had a trace or low levels, and 9% had moderate to high levels.
In the tech section of this past year's report, you’ll also find details on studies for accuracy of UAS derived mapping and UAS image processing software.
The success of the eFields program and report hinges on the use of precision ag technologies and data generated from these technologies. The eFields team is able to answer farmer specific questions while providing results at a county, regional, and state level from similarly conducted studies. Farm data can be valuable especially helping to learn about what practices, inputs, or other farm decisions can impact the bottom line.
Studies for 2020 have been planned with a few already started these past couple of weeks. Technology and data provides a real value to the program and can to your farm.
John Fulton is an Associate Professor at The Ohio State University
Elizabeth Hawkins is an Extension Field Specialist, Agronomic Systems at The Ohio State University.