On-Farm Trials in Brazil: The Way to Improve Agronomic Knowledge

The idea of using on-farm trials to gather data about the performance of any crop input has been in place even before the advent of modern science. Farmers tend to test anything new on small portions of their fields and compare with their common practices before adopting a new practice on their whole farm.

This practice may work well for some crop inputs and some farmers, for example, when only two treatments need to be compared, the fields are relatively homogenous, and the new treatment yields 10% more than the farmer’s common practice. In this situation, even if small errors in the trial planning, data collection, or data analysis occur, the experiment conclusion will be the same and the farmer will be pleased in the next year when he sees the results of applying the winner treatment to the whole farm. However, as agricultural production systems get more complex, more detailed methods are needed.

The number of inputs applied during a crop season increases every year. This is driven by the occurrence of new pests and diseases, the availability of new fertilizer sources, and the advances in plant physiology. This more intensive way of farming has been responsible for the yield increases attained in the last decades, but has also raised production costs. Translating this fact to the context of this article, it means that the yield difference accountable by each crop input is smaller and therefore a higher level of accuracy in the whole experimentation process must be attained to secure that the right conclusions can be drawn.

Statistically speaking, this means more levels of treatments are needed to account for interactions, and more replications to account for field spatial variability and reduce uncertainties. This imposes some challenges for farmers, which has forced most of the agronomy experimentation to move from fields to the more controlled environments of research facilities. With the advent of precision agriculture and the development of new agricultural machines, some of the challenges of large scale on-farm trials were overcome and the interest in this subject was renewed. But this happened more than 20 years ago and this important tool for improving agronomic knowledge and the whole production system is not widely adopted yet. So, what makes me think that the next 20 years will be completely different in that context?

It is worth mentioning some previous articles posted on PrecisionAg.com, which report USDA funding the University of Illinois research that focuses on using precision technology in on-farm field trials to enable data-intensive fertilizer management, and Syngenta investing in Premier Crop Systems to accelerate the development of Enhanced Learning Blocks. The great interest among public and private sectors to advance this topic is a good indicator of its importance and poses a fundamental step to make it accessible to more farmers.

Another important aspect that is evolving is data sharing across networks of farmers. The results obtained in projects like Farmers Business Network and FarmLogs Research Network are examples of what can be obtained with the collaboration of farmers. In these circumstances, the large number of observations in different fields can compensate for the errors associated with data collection. This is specifically true when production systems are similar and standard protocols can be easily implemented.

One of the reasons precision agriculture was thought to be a game changer in the use of on-farm trials more than 20 years ago was because it would be much more simple and cheaper to implement treatments, keep track of everything during the crop season, and analyze the results. You would just need to make a variable rate prescription in seconds, then collect the yield map data with the combine while harvesting, and then draw the conclusions.

In practice, a lot of time needed to be spent planning the treatment locations, accounting for machine capabilities, converting data to an acceptable format, checking and calibrating sensors, dealing with lost data, converting yield data, cleaning the raw data, and analyzing the results. Some of these laborious and time-consuming tasks have been automated by precision agriculture software and the new digital agriculture platforms we have seen in the last years, but there is still room for a lot of improvements and generalizations. One important issue related to this problem is data standardization and ease of access, and some important developments towards resolving it having been made in the last months by the AgGateway initiative.

During a presentation I made last month at the Seminar of Precision Agriculture, which was held in Piracicaba – SP, on the topic of improving agronomic recommendations in management zones, the audience questions made it clear that software and methodologies to analyze this data is still a major barrier to the widespread adoption of on-farm trials in Brazil. At Smart Agri we have been providing consultancy for farmers, service providers, and crop input companies on the use of on-farm trials. Although we can overcome the challenges mentioned above with skilled professionals, the quality of data collection has been the main issue. Most of the data we get are from large farms, and when you have a fleet of combines, it is much more difficult to assure data accuracy. Another important thing to mention is the diversity of production systems and the intensive land use, ranging from one to three crops a year in the same area. The previous crop is likely to influence the results, and the hurry to seed the next crop will be the priority, not the data collection.

Although there are many obstacles to the adoption of on-farm trials, we are excited with the potential observed in some successful histories. The maps shown are an example of this, illustrating the use of on-farm trials to evaluate cotton response to nitrogen application. Cotton is one important crop in Brazil, which is mainly cultivated by “high tech” farmers. The objective of these trials is to compensate for spatial and temporal variations in the optimum N rate to be applied. The total N amount planned is usually split in four applications: 10% at seeding, 30% at 20 days after seeding (DAS), 30% at 40 DAS, and 30% at 60 DAS. We use a fixed rate at seeding, and implement the on-farm trials at 20 DAS, using variable rate based on historical data for the rest of the field. In the photo below, each square plot has about 2 ha and the whole field has 700 ha. The trials are replicated in each management zone.

On-Farm-Trials-Brazil
On-farm trials are used to evaluate cotton response to topdress nitrogen application in Brazil. The applied rate at 20 days after seeding (left) and a satellite image of the crop response at 40 days after seeding (right).

We then start to monitor crop development and adjust the next two applications based on the crop response. Although it may seem similar to the use of reference strips to determine nitrogen fertilizer requirements in other crops such as corn and wheat, there is a main difference. The relationship between cotton vigor and cotton yield is not linear. Because of that, the rate to be applied must not limit cotton yield, but it is likely to still limit cotton vegetative development, which means that some crop scouting is needed to validate the model. We are also investing in some technologies similar to the ones in use for plant phenotyping to make data collection fully automated. With this use of on-farm trials we can get cotton yield improvements of 5% to 10% and nitrogen savings of 20% to 30%. Future technological developments will allow the size of the plots to be reduced and the number of replications to be increased, generating more robust results.

Leave a Reply

One comment on “On-Farm Trials in Brazil: The Way to Improve Agronomic Knowledge

Americas Stories
AmericasIvy Tech Opens Center of Excellence to Train Tomorrow’s Precision Ag Service Providers
August 9, 2018
Students interested in careers in precision agriculture equipment technology or diesel technology now have the opportunity to pursue certificates, technical Read More
AmericasSciFi in Ag: Rolls Royce Tech On Your Planter? Robotic Bugs for Maintenance?
July 31, 2018
Article Notes: This monthly column takes some crazy sounding ideas and applies them to the field of Ag Tech. The Read More
AmericasFarmers Edge Announces U.S. Seed Dealer Collaboration
July 31, 2018
Farmers Edge recently announced a collaboration with Phillips Seed Farms Inc., a full-line seed company servicing Midwest and Southern U.S. Read More
AmericasPrecisionAg Accelerator: Examining the Business of Precision
July 31, 2018
An attentive classroom of 50 precision agriculture managers gathered in Brookings, SD, in June for the inaugural PrecisionAg® Professional Accelerator, Read More
Trending Articles
1 On 1 With Paul Schrimpf: Simplot’s Allan Fetters
PrecisionAg InstituteOne on One With Simplot’s Allan Fetters
August 8, 2018
Allan Fetters of PrecisionAg Institute partner Simplot Grower Solutions talks about techology trends and key learnings from the recent InfoAg Conference in this exclusive interview with PrecisionAg's Paul Schrimpf. Read More
PrecisionAg InstitutePrecisionAg Institute Whitepaper Library
August 1, 2018
Welcome to the PrecisionAg Institute Whitepaper library! Here you will find free whitepapers and case studies from the PrecisionAg Institute Partners Read More
AmericasIntegrity Ag Group: People Over Precision
July 30, 2018
It’s not every day that this reporter walks into the office of a precision ag dealer, sits across from the Read More
farmer-tractor-tablet
Systems ManagementWhat is Digital Farming — Really?
July 24, 2018
The agricultural community has spent several years synthesizing an operational description for digital farming. In several cases, there have also Read More
Data ManagementInfoAg News: Farmobile Launches DataEngine, Streamlines DataStore Buyer Process
July 17, 2018
Busy times these days out in Leawood, KS, for ag data startup Farmobile, as they continue to – pardon the Read More
ISPA-Yoshua-Bengio
EventsHighlights from the 14th International Conference on Precision Agriculture
July 9, 2018
The 14th International Conference on Precision Agriculture (ICPA) presented by the International Society of Precision Agriculture (ISPA) was held in Montreal, Read More
Latest News
Events5 Reasons You Should Attend Growing Innovations
August 13, 2018
The specialty crop market is wracked by unprecedented change: labor scarcity, water shortages, pressing demands for increased quality and transparency Read More
Data Science tablet
Data ManagementMicrosoft, Agile Networks Detail Central Ohio Broadband…
August 9, 2018
Agile Networks, a leading provider of telecommunications solutions, and Microsoft Corp. has announced a new agreement to bring broadband internet Read More
AmericasIvy Tech Opens Center of Excellence to Train Tomorrow&#…
August 9, 2018
Students interested in careers in precision agriculture equipment technology or diesel technology now have the opportunity to pursue certificates, technical Read More
1 On 1 With Paul Schrimpf: Simplot’s Allan Fetters
PrecisionAg InstituteOne on One With Simplot’s Allan Fetters
August 8, 2018
Allan Fetters of PrecisionAg Institute partner Simplot Grower Solutions talks about techology trends and key learnings from the recent InfoAg Conference in this exclusive interview with PrecisionAg's Paul Schrimpf. Read More
Corn field sunset
Industry NewsTrimble RTX Correction Technology Now Delivers Two Cent…
August 7, 2018
Trimble has announced that its Trimble RTX GNSS corrections technology can now achieve horizontal accuracies of better than two centimeters. Read More
Sentera-Gimbaled-Quad-Sensor
Sensors/IoTSentera Gimbaled Quad Sensor Optimizes Crop Health Data…
August 7, 2018
Sentera’s Quad sensor is now available in an integrated gimbal-stabilized package for DJI Inspire and Matrice drones. Featuring four fully-customizable Read More
BigDataSmall2
Data ManagementPrecision Agriculture: A Smaller Approach to Big Data
August 7, 2018
Big data is one of the most buzzed-about concepts in our industry. Rarely do we read a newsletter, attend a Read More
Grower-Retailer
Industry NewsAgworld, K-coe Isom Form Strategic Partnership
August 6, 2018
Agworld and K-coe Isom have announced a strategic partnership that will see them integrating business advisory and technology to deliver Read More
Industry NewsAgEagle Acquires Agribotix
August 6, 2018
AgEagle Aerial Systems has signed an agreement to acquire substantially all of the assets of Agribotix, a Boulder, CO-based drone-enabled Read More
Digital-Farming
Systems ManagementImplementing Digital Farming’s Five Major Needs
August 2, 2018
Building a house starts with a plan and then a foundation; it does not start with doors and windows. From Read More
PrecisionAg InstitutePrecisionAg Institute Whitepaper Library
August 1, 2018
Welcome to the PrecisionAg Institute Whitepaper library! Here you will find free whitepapers and case studies from the PrecisionAg Institute Partners Read More
Bruce-Erickson-video
Excellence AwardsPassion for Teaching: Purdue’s Bruce Erickson
August 1, 2018
PrecisionAg Award of Excellence recipient Bruce Erickson is driven to share his knowledge of precision technologies and techniques with students, as well as the larger agriculture community. Read More
Newell-Kitchen
Excellence AwardsChasing the Mystery Behind Soil Variability: Newell Kit…
August 1, 2018
Newell Kitchen of the University of Missouri, recipient of the Legacy award in the 2018 PrecisionAg Award of Excellence program, has worked for decades to employ technology in unlocking the secrets hidden in farm fields. Read More
Nish-Majarian-video
Excellence AwardsNishan Majarian: Keeping Software Simple
August 1, 2018
Addressing the grower's true needs and making software easy to use has driven Agrian's product development from the beginning says co-founder and CEO Nishan Majarian, recipient of the 2018 Crop Adviser/Entrepreneur Award in the PrecisionAg Awards of Excellence program Read More
Rodney-Wright-video
Excellence AwardsRodney Wright: Better Farming With Precision
August 1, 2018
Harnessing the power of precision technology leads to year-over-year improvement in productivity and stewardship, says Arkansas grower Rodney Wright, recipient of the 2018 Farmer award in the PrecisionAg Awards of Excellence program. Read More
Rod Weimer and Paul Schrimpf
Australia/New ZealandPast Recipients Of The PrecisionAg Awards Of Excellence
July 31, 2018
Since 2007, the PrecisionAg Insititute has sponsored the annual Awards of Excellence program. Here's a list of the past winners. Read More
vineyard-canopy-sensing
Specialty CropsHow to Make Vineyard Management More Precise
July 31, 2018
There are ways mechanization can help winegrape growers complete vineyard tasks more efficiently and make more informed vineyard decisions. One Read More
Agriculture_Horizon
Industry NewsLand O’Lakes SUSTAIN Acquires Software Company Ag…
July 31, 2018
Land O’Lakes SUSTAIN has announced Land O’Lakes, Inc. has acquired substantially all assets of Agren, Inc., an Iowa-based software company Read More