Bringing the lab to the crop

The spring planting season is right around the corner, and area growers will soon be researching what crops to grow, Dickinson farm and ranch specialists said.

Roger Ashley, extension agronomist for Dickinson's North Dakota State University Extension Center, points to area plots on a spatial management system in his office Thursday. Ashley said farmers use the software to gather crop data.

The spring planting season is right around the corner, and area growers will soon be researching what crops to grow, Dickinson farm and ranch specialists said.

Frank Kutka, an agriculture specialist for North Dakota State University's Research Extension Center in Dickinson, said some local farmers are taking a hands-on approach to crop studies by engaging in on-farm research. He added that the activity is a progressive step.

"Farmers can do some of their own research, Kutka said. "Universities have helped, but I think a lot of observations right at home have really helped things."

Through on-farm research, farmers experiment by planting varieties of different crops to see how they grow in Western North Dakota.

"You could go out and change the rate of fertility you're putting down in several different strips on a field, and then go observe the plants and check the yields with your combine yield monitor and see how much of a difference did it make," Kutka said.


Along with utilizing a trial and error approach when testing crops, Kutka also said farmers analyze their own samples.

"Sometimes (farmers) will do plant tissue sampling. Sometimes they'll go out and collect the insects or send leaf samples in to look for diseases," he said. "There's lots of ways to tweak things, and there have been farmers and ranchers trying all of those."

A significant number of farmers in Beach took their own soil samples in recent years, he added.

Roger Ashley, extension agronomist at NDSU's Extension Center, said technology is making it easier for farmers to conduct research.

"With the advent of yield monitors and GPS, and all the space data collecting tools (and) software now, producers are able to conduct a lot of their own field tests on their farm," Ashley said.

Kurt Froelich, extension agent for the Stark and Billings County NDSU Extension Service, said most soil samples are conducted in the fall, leaving spring as a prime time for area farmers to run test trials on their crops.

"Instead of using all the same variety, (farmers) may be planting three, four different varieties," Froelich said.

Dickinson farmer Ryan Kadrmas focuses heavily on crop trials, and believes there are advantages to conducting research firsthand.


"Pretty much all the crops I raise, I'll have side-by-side trials," Kadrmas said. "I can sometimes find yield differences on my farm that don't show up in other places."

Kadrmas said he usually dedicates a portion of his land for the use of crop trials, adding that any one test crop can take up as much as 20 acres.

A year ago, Kadrmas faced bad weather that left him with a small planting window, which he said made it impossible to plant his usual amount of trial crops. With favorable weather in recent weeks, he thinks there is more promise for trials.

"The only benefit nice weather has is that it probably provides more time to put the trials in," he said.

The concept of on-farm research is also benefiting area agriculture students, said Woodrow "Chip" Poland, agriculture professor at Dickinson State University.

"(Mike Schmidt's) project was looking at annual forage, oats and pea mixtures," Poland said. "We designed the study, he went home (and) implemented."

Kutka believes on-farm research is beneficial for people with different planting backgrounds.

"I think on-farm research is really a part of agriculture," he said.

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