Research Highlights

Research Highlights
Virginia On-Farm Research Addresses Grower Questions

Many on-farm research trials host field days to share information with farmers. Photo: Virginia Cooperative Extension

By Laura Temple

Which cover crops fit each system well? Do in-season applications of biologicals increase soybean yield or quality? What seeding rate optimizes yield? How much do specific soybean varieties yield under typical management and environmental conditions?

Virginia farmers ask these questions and many others, according to Scott Reiter, Virginia Cooperative Extension unit coordinator and agent in Prince George County. Soy checkoff funding for on-farm research from the Virginia Soybean Board lays the foundation for finding answers in their fields.

“We want to find answers to the questions growers ask,” Reiter says. “For more than 20 years, we’ve cooperated with farmers to conduct on-farm, replicated trials in real-world conditions to evaluate soybean production strategies.”

He explains that soy checkoff funding covers the basic needs for this research, including materials, maintenance and travel expenses. Reiter and other participating extension agents in Virginia then leverage this investment to secure product donations and other support, creating a robust, responsive program. 

About 15 agents from around the state manage on-farm trials each year. They collect and analyze the trial data, which is published each January and discussed with farmers during winter meetings.

“The goal is to do research farmers want to see,” Reiter says.

Variety Strip Trials

The longest-running trials have been large-scale variety strip trials. In these trials, cooperating farmers plant strips of different varieties in their fields with their own equipment. Throughout the season, the farmers manage these large plots just like the rest of their soybeans. Each year, Reiter says the team invites seed companies to submit two Maturity Group 4 and two Maturity Group 5 soybean varieties currently available in Virginia for their variety trials.

Overall yield results from 2021 on-farm variety strip trials. Source: Virginia Cooperative Extension

“The yield results from these strip trials can differ from small seed company plots,” Reiter says. “We start posting yield data from these trials as soon as we get it, and we continue adding information until cooperators finish harvesting them. This allows farmers to have access to local results before early-order discount deadlines in the fall.”

The annual data publication includes both an overall comparison across all trial locations and county-specific yield results. 

“Seed company sales reps also value our data,” he adds. “They share it with farmers, as well.”

Current Agronomic Challenges

In addition to the variety trials, other on-farm trials focus on current agronomic issues. Each winter, Reiter says participating county extension agents meet to discuss common questions they are hearing from farmers and to decide what other trials they want to conduct during the coming season. 

“Our other trials change every year, depending on farmer needs,” he says.

For example, in 2020, a cover crop demonstration plot evaluated the performance of full-season soybeans following different types of small grain cover crops. These cover crops included barley, oats, rye and wheat and were terminated about one month before planting. Soybean yields were similar following all of the cover crops, but the rye plots produced the most biomass. Another demonstration plot evaluated nutrient cycling with tillage radish and rapeseed as cover crops. It showed that tillage radish provided a notable increase in potassium by late June. 

“While more research is needed to understand cover crops, demonstration plots like these help farmers evaluate options and learn more,” Reiter notes. “We often host field days to show trials during the season.”

Other 2020 on-farm trials investigated high oleic soybeans, earlier maturity group varieties and seeding rates, while 2021 research trials looked at double-crop soybeans and foliar fungicide applications.

“During 2022, we have replicated trials looking at biological seed treatments and foliar biologicals, since farmers are asking questions about this input category,” he says. “They appreciate these local and regional trials that provide data from farms.”

Published: Sep 26, 2022

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.