Research Highlights

Research Highlights
South Dakota On-Farm Research Can Help Producers Statewide

Photo: United Soybean Board

By Carol Brown

From breeding new hybrids to finding the best planting date and everything in between, soybean research is conducted on many levels. Farmers may not see research results for some time as testing can take years for successful outcomes.

But David Clay is taking on-farm research results to farmers as quickly as he can. The revered soil science professor at South Dakota State University is conducting on-farm research trials so growers can make management decisions for their operations within each growing season.

“Farmers have many questions regarding their soybean management,” Clay said. “Our goal is to try and provide them with the information they seek so they can make informed decisions to optimize their economic returns.”

Clay has been conducting on-farm research for years with support from the South Dakota Soybean Research and Promotion Council.  

“It’s really about working one-on-one with South Dakota farmers,” he said. “Through the in-field research, we work on the basic questions farmers have like, ‘Do I need to change my application rates?’ or ‘Do I need to apply a fungicide?’”

Once the data is collected from these numerous studies, the results are sent to the farmer and posted on the South Dakota Soybean On-Farm Research Program website: This way, others with similar questions can use this database to find answers.

On-farm research is being conducted on private farms all across the state. In 2019, there were 55 completed projects, with an additional 35 projects that were scrapped due to extreme rains and flooding conditions. This year, studies are back on track. On-farm trial study topics range from fungicide applications, planting populations, nitrogen and sulfur application, cover crop usage and more.

This year there is heightened interest in the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), or drones, to collect field imagery that will aid in field scouting, said Clay. He and his research team are including drone technology usage in their research this year.

“We have about 60 fields we are monitoring with the UAVs. We collect infrared images on these fields three times per season,” Clay said. “We want to demonstrate how this technology can help farmers when they scout their fields. This data can help them make decisions right away about any problems they may have, for instance whether to apply fungicide or insecticide.”

Clay and his small team traverse the state to fly the drones over those 60-some fields. They then combine the infrared images collected from the drone with elevation images from LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging). This new image could reveal problem spots within a field. The LiDAR images were taken and are available through the South Dakota Department of Natural Resources.

The combined aerial imagery taken from a drone overlaid with the LiDAR elevation image of the field results in this three-dimensional map. Farmers can see their fields from a different perspective, which could reveal unknown issues within the area. Image courtesy David Clay.

“We try to get the imagery back to the farmers as soon as we can, maybe within a couple days, so they can make quick decisions,” Clay said. “We’re not trying to replace what industry is doing, but rather show farmers what the available technology can do for them. Producers can see the opportunities the technology provides so they can decide whether or not to invest.”

Once this year’s acres are harvested, the team will take the research a step further by correlating yield monitor data from the studied fields with the aerial image sets to compose a more detailed picture of each field.

Farmers could purchase their own UAV or employ a company offering this service in order to make faster and better-informed farm management decisions.  Some South Dakota producers may farm a thousand acres, which can be difficult to scout and drones can speed up the process.

The on-farm research that Clay and his team annually conduct continues to help farmers across South Dakota answer their production questions, which run the gamut from basic to complicated. The research trials may be only on a small number of farms, but the results could help many producers with similar issues to improve productivity and yield.

Published: Sep 28, 2020

The materials on SRIN were funded with checkoff dollars from United Soybean Board and the North Central Soybean Research Program. To find checkoff funded research related to this research highlight or to see other checkoff research projects, please visit the National Soybean Checkoff Research Database.