Farmers today have an increasing number of tools for improving production. New developments in precision farming technologies, biotechnology, and advancements in pesticides, equipment, and other inputs are converging at the farm-gate at a fast rate.
Most times, farmers use technologies with little or no evaluation prior to use, and industries invest heavily in technology research and development and distribute quickly in an attempt to recover investments in the early phases of technology adoption.
Usually, farmers at great expense must learn the management of these technologies as new and improved versions are released.
The objective of an on-farm trial is to predict how different inputs and management options will perform compared to each other under an environment and cropping system.
The process of on-farm testing of a hypothesis and using the information gained in a helpful, systematic manner has been highly successful in providing practical options for making production decisions on the farm.
If farmers in Africa are to influence agricultural research more directly, researchers and extension agents need better incentives and improved ability to address farmers’ needs.
Skills to bridge the social distance between scientists and farmers are essential. In fact, farmers should experiment with applications to find out what works and pays best for their conditions, and researchers should see the farmers as experimenters, and gather feedback from them.
By taking some practical steps to trial design, farmers can improve the strength of their tramline and split field trials. This could lead to more informed cropping decisions.
A network of farmers carrying out trials should become a key part of crop research. This farm-centric approach, with farmers and researchers working together, could deliver answers to key agricultural and developmental problems.
For what it is worth, there have been farmers’ growing desire to learn more, from their data about the factors limiting yield.
Limitations Of On-Farm Trials
Sometimes, replicated plot trials are not applicable for farmers and those doing their own research opt for split-field trials. However, all these have their limitations, and farmers could be missing out on genuine yield gains.
There is also the likelihood that farmers could see a false benefit and spend money on a treatment that is bringing no sustainable benefit.
There is a large natural variability seen across fields, and farmers, therefore, need to get a handle of this variation in order to have confidence in their results. One way is to repeat the trial over two to three seasons.
A piece of advice when splitting a field is to go for three areas rather than two so that you can have control areas with the treatment in the middle.
The two controls give the innovative farmers an idea of the variation, helping them assess whether any benefit seen is real.
Another good tip is selecting the most uniform field and avoiding headlands
Top Tips For On-Farm Trials
- Choose a field that is not too variable or a field where you at least understand how it varies and can take account of this in the plan.
- Understand that variation along tramlines is less of a problem than across. It can show how a treatment affects yields over diverse soil types
- Avoid headlands and trees
- If you can, use google earth to help show any variation in that field
- Rather than splitting a field in half, do three areas (two controls and the middle one treated). Thus, if the difference between the controls is greater than the response, then you cannot read anything into the trial.
- Ensure that the only difference is the treatment being applied, and keep good records of all treatments.
- Satellite data is now widely available, so consider getting data to see if there is any treatment effect on crop biomass