Testing Technologies on Farm Trials
James Hadden, Ph.D., technical development lead, Syngenta, North America: During the course of registering new products, most field research is done in small-plot settings at universities or on internal research farms. While this research is critical to understanding the products’ performance and use patterns, on-farm testing is still needed. Testing on-farm helps build a database of performance for the local market. Weed species, diseases and insect pressure vary by geography. On-farm testing allows growers to see how a product will work on the pests in their areas; it also offers growers an opportunity to compare their current practices with those of the new product.
Often, newly registered products provide an increase in the duration or range of a pest-control technology. For example, Acuron® corn herbicide controls many weeds—such as morningglory, giant ragweed and kochia—that growers are having trouble managing. On-farm testing lets growers gauge for themselves how a product performs and builds their confidence in the product. It also gives Syngenta and our resellers the platform to bring new technology to the early adopters in the area. These growers are typically the ones who drive change.
On-farm testing is a partnership that allows everyone access to view product performance on a larger scale and under commercial conditions. These trials help us gain additional knowledge around tank-mix compatibilities, product handling and grower programs.
What are the basic steps in setting up and maintaining a trial?
Hadden: Traditionally, our local agronomy and sales teams run our on-farm trialing program. The Syngenta sales and agronomic service representatives, working with a local reseller, will select potential growers who are excited about trying new products or technologies.
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Once the growers have committed to work with us, the team will meet to discuss an agronomic protocol. This protocol will outline the treatments we’ll test, the product use rates and timings, and any measurements—yield, for example—we’ll take during the season. There is an expectation that growers or their farm crews will make the applications at the specified rates and timings. Also, they will need to grant us access to the field so that we can make observations and gather data. The Syngenta rep and reseller may make frequent visits throughout the year to monitor the progress of the trial and record any differences between treatments.
The best growers for on-farm trials are those who have a genuine interest in the outcome of the project. Sometimes at the end of the season, trials are lost due to a grower’s sense of urgency to get his or her crop harvested and in the barn. Our reps make every effort to meet the grower’s timeline and expectations. But if a grower harvests a crop before we can capture the data, it can mean the loss of a trial and a year’s worth of work. Building strong communications between the grower, the reseller and the Syngenta team may be the most critical element to the success of these trials.
How do participants make the most of the data collected?
Hadden: Once the data from a test has been captured and summarized, Syngenta shares it with everyone involved. Generally, we set up several on-farm trials of the same protocol across an area. This allows us to observe results on different farms across similar climate and soil types. Combining these trials from the same area gives us the ability to run statistical analysis and build confidence in the performance of a product. Many times, Syngenta uses the results from these trials to prepare local technical sales sheets that resellers can share with growers.
Yield data, disease-control numbers or insect counts are all extremely valuable in telling the story. However, there are times when a photograph can convey the same story in a much more powerful light. Looking at a photo of a clean soybean field that’s been treated with a number of overlapping residual herbicides, like Boundary® and Flexstar® GT, next to a field with a program that has allowed numerous escaped pigweeds can be very impactful. That’s why we suggest taking pictures throughout the season to document what’s seen.
What resources are available for help?
Hadden: In 2016, Syngenta will launch 16 newly registered crop protection products into the marketplace. We’ll also introduce a wide variety of new hybrids and varieties. Our field sales and agronomic service reps have a strong knowledge base around these products and can help provide information on how to use them effectively. We’ll also have more than 60 Grow More Experience locations throughout the country, where resellers can see a broad range of our latest seed, seed treatment and crop protection products at work in the field.
With so many new products launching, our need for on-farm trials to supplement the Grow More Experience program is great. If resellers are interested in placing an on-farm trial with a grower, they should contact their local Syngenta sales rep or agronomist. We can help provide the insight and information needed to make these trials a success.