Field Verification: Separating the Wheat from the Chaff

Sep 04, 2019

It is human nature to ask questions, but the agriculture community in particular is certainly not short on curiosity. Farmers have a long history of looking to the soil and sky to infer what impact they have on their crops and this is a tradition that continues today. Amidst the flood of new products and technologies hitting the agriculture market today, understanding what factors contribute most strongly to yield production is, arguably, as important as it has ever been. However, with no two seasons alike it can be a challenge to pinpoint what combinations of input decisions are going to yield the best crop response under a specific set of environmental conditions. Understanding what agronomic products and practices are best suited for farms within the G-Mac’s AgTeam territory is the motivation behind our Field Verified Trial Program. Field scale trials are excellent tools, not only for the evaluation of local data and identification of opportunities to enhance farm-scale productivity, but also to explore new products and verify that their marketing claims are accurate.
Value of Local Data
Just as no two seasons are alike, no two growers share identical land characteristics or management strategies. Field-scale trials can provide great insight into the practices that are and are not working on your own farm and within the environmental conditions of your farming region. Sometimes the most meaningful things that we learn from a trial do not pertain directly to the experimental question that was asked or the product that was evaluated, but rather something specific to your soil type, equipment, crop rotation history, or environmental conditions of the season. Furthermore, many of the products that end up in the Western Canadian agriculture market were developed initially for corn and soybean crops and, therefore, have had far less exposure to field testing with the crops grown within the G-Mac’s region.
Field Scale vs. Small Plot Research
Small plot research as it compares to field scale trials is a topic that leads to much debate within the agriculture research community. On one hand, small plot research is a fantastic source of quality information because it facilitates multiple replications and the ability for greater control over variables. However, it is often argued that the experimental design and site-set up do not reflect those of a standard farm operation. Because neither research system is completely flawless, it is important that industry continue to derive data from both small plot and field scale trials. Of even greater importance, is ensuring that the experimental design and site characteristics influencing the data are well understood and that we are making decisions from good quality datasets. Some of the strategies we utilize in our Field Verified Trial Program to ensure we collect representative trial data include:
  • Multiple treatment replicates within each trial site
  • Replication of field trial design at multiple sites across the G-Mac’s territory
  • Comprehensive record-keeping and field monitoring through the duration of the trial

Figure 1. Aerial photos of a G-Mac’s Field Verified Trial at harvest near Marengo, SK. Treatments are replicated throughout the field and final yield is determined by weighing the grain obtained from long and full header-width combine passes. (Photo credit: Kregan Warrington, 2017)

Verification of New Products
It is no secret that the ag-product market is evolving at a rapid pace. Hundreds of new products, particularly in the fertility and biological sectors, request registration by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) on an annual basis. However, product registration is not always synonymous with its efficacy.
“As of April 26, 2013 the CFIA no longer regulates the quality and efficacy of products regulated under the Fertilizers Act. This included the discontinuation of pre-market efficacy assessments and verifications of performance/benefit claims as well cessation of marketplace monitoring for product quality” (CFIA, 2013).
Prior to the 2013 repeal of regulatory requirements of fertilizer products, the efficacy claims and benefits listed on the product label had to be supported by scientifically valid information and authenticated in a very transparent manner. Product application rates and frequency, crop nutritional requirements, use pattern, current agriculture practices, statistical methods, research trial design, and Canadian climate and soil conditions were all important considerations when evaluating product performance through the original CFIA registration process. Although CFIA still diligently verifies the overall safety of regulated fertilizer and supplement products entering the agriculture market, the standard of efficacy verification and quality control has dropped dramatically.  As such, it is imperative that growers and crop advisors continue to work together to “separate the wheat from the chaff” when it comes to new nutrient-based crop products to better determine which ones are going to live up to their marketing claims and offer a legitimate chance of a return-on-investment.
Agriculture is definitely a knowledge-based industry. The opportunity for endless experimental design and continuous learning with every season is a large part of what makes agriculture so exciting. We, at G-Mac’s AgTeam, are appreciative of our partnerships with grower and manufacturer co-operators who are as curious and as invested in finding answers as we are. We might not have all the answers but we certainly have a lot of good questions and are having a lot of fun trying to learn and field verify as much as we can.

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