If you want to test products or management ideas on your farm but don’t have the time or expertise for your own comparisons, help could be as close as your seed corn dealer. They can likely do most of the heavy lifting in setting up the trials and analyzing the results of testing nitrogen rates, plant populations, herbicides, fungicides seed varieties and more.
Seed corn companies not only want to test their products on varying soil conditions; they also motivated to determine how their products interact with various fertilizer rates, pesticides and other inputs.
Pioneer Hi-Bred, for example, helped farmers plant 400 test plots in 2013 in Iowa alone, says Brent Wilson, Pioneer technical services manager for Iowa. “We work with farmers on 300-500 C-Pro crop production trials each year, and we’d welcome more,” Wilson says.
Farming partners Seth Van Zante and Neal Brown are in their third year of trials on their farm near Fremont in eastern Iowa.
“Brody Benton, a Pioneer account rep for southeast Iowa, came to us and asked if we wanted to get involved with test plots,” says Van Zante. “That was fine with us, because we wanted to see how the different varieties planted at different rates would perform, too.”
In the Pioneer C-Pro test for 2014, they tested two new Pioneer products against two core products to compare their agronomic performance on their soils. They were also one of four farms in Benton’s territory (Washington and Keokuk Counties) to conduct nitrogen timing trials on Mahaska or Taintor soils.
“This plot had 165 pounds of fall anhydrous. Neal and Seth applied 25 pounds of additional nitrogen with a preemergence herbicide over the entire plot. Then came the sidedress test—they applied another 50 units of liquid nitrogen on half the plot at V4 with their Hagie high-boy. On the other half, they aerially applied 50 units of nitrogen pre-tassel,” Benton says.
At harvest, results were analyzed on all four plots by product, population, soil type and agronomic trial using Pioneer’s Field 360 Studio program. Overall, the tests showed a slight (2 bushel per acre) advantage with VT (pretassel) application. The tests showed a yield advantage of 7 to 11 bushels per acre with V4 application on early 105- and 106-day maturities. But the 112- to 114-day varieties showed about a 10-bushel-per-acre advantage with VT application. The midrange varieties didn’t show a yield advantage either way.
“We think these trials demonstrated that if a grower preferred to side-dress at V4, but was held out of the field due to weather conditions, he could still reach yield potential with a later sidedress between V4 and tasseling,” Benton concludes.
Van Zante and Brown’s trial showed a 2-8-bushel-per-acre advantage to aerially applied pretassel sidedressing compared to earlier V4 side-dressing, dependent on hybrid. Their test plot also showed that one corn hybrid had similar yields regardless of plant population, but two others had 8- and 11-bushel yield jumps with 30,000 population and 13- and 17-bushel-per-acre yield drops with 42,000 population.
“I like the idea of being able to test both the seed varieties and populations and the nitrogen timing at the same time in the same trial,” Van Zante says. “I think this is a simple way of doing a trial.”
Brown is convinced the test plots are more effective with input from his seed dealer. “We get an extra set of eyes on our field, and we get to see the latest hybrids perform on our fields a year or two ahead of time,” Brown says. “We’re dealing with cutting-edge information.”
Extra set of eyes
Cory, Indiana, farmer Dwight Ludwig ran his first nitrogen test in 2014 with Pioneer dealer Josh Butt in two plots totaling between 15 and 20 acres. They tested normal nitrogen rates against adding 20 and 40 pounds, as well as subtracting that amount, to see how yields were affected. He compared notes through the season with Butt, who is also conducting the same testing on his own farm.
In variable-rate nitrogen tests in 2013, Butt confirmed with several customers that their soils with low organic matter responded better to higher nitrogen rates than did soils with high organic matter.
“In a year with extremely favorable growing conditions, our trials showed the nitrogen rate could be substantially lower to produce the same yield,” Ludwig says. “We did find that split applications seemed to increase yields, but not enough this year to pay for the cost of the extra nitrogen. We’ll incorporate more split-nitrogen applications into our operation next year and conduct another trial.”
Phil Carter, another trial participant, said this year’s trials showed him he would have been better off by reducing his nitrogen by 30-40 pounds of nitrogen per acre on his no-till ground. “I barely had a bushel difference from the top nitrogen rate and the bottom rate,” he says.
“It was nice to do this through Pioneer. I can probably cut back 20 to 30 pounds on nitrogen and increase my bottom line. At least I feel more comfortable doing that now,” he says.
Carter and Ludwig also participated in Pioneer’s Advanced Treatment Analysis, which evaluates operations on the entire farm. “The analysis raises more questions in some cases,” Carter says.
Ludwig says the whole-farm advanced analysis has pointed out needed changes in his fertility program and seeding operations, and the information they’ve worked together to collect and analyze has been instrumental to the success of his farm.
Carter and Ludwig’s trial results mirror the combined findings from all nitrogen trials in Butt’s territory. For 2014’s growing season, “there wasn’t enough yield change to justify costs of extra nitrogen,” Butt says, noting that some growers would have been even better off with a 10% reduction in nitrogen. However, he was quick to add that the lower rate wasn’t as economical in 2013. “That’s why we like multiple-year replicated trials,” he says.
“We’re learning how our products respond in different environments; it helps us put the right product on the right acres,” Wilson says. “The bonus for all of us is that they can also look at responses to nutrients, foliar fungicides and other management alternatives.”
While Pioneer will ask to use the plot data in aggregate analysis, Wilson says the grower owns their individual data. “We take data ownership very seriously,” he says. “They can stay anonymous if they wish.”