Fall Harvest Sept 2018





TAPS engages farmers in innovative competition

“This will change the way producers make de- cisions,” Stockton said. “I think it already has.” This year TAPS in- cludes 20 corn and eight grain sorghum “farms,” managed by individuals or teams. Last year the project was limited to corn production. Each farm consists of three plots. Participants decide what hybrids to plant, the seeding rate, how much nitrogen fer- tilizer and water to apply and when to apply them, what crop insurance to purchase, and how to market the crop. Profits are extrapolated to a 3,000-acre farm, and the differences from one farm to another can be large. “We’re getting more interest with producers” as the program continues, Burr said. Results and other information are posted at TAPS.unl.edu. Man- agement decisions, yields and other data for each farm are shown, but the

By GEORGE HAWS george.haws@ nptelegraph.com

It is a competition, but it’s not just a game. The site is small but results, extrapolated to a larger scale, can be dramatic. This is the second year for Testing Ag Performance Solutions. It compares the results of one farmer’s decision with another’s, and with university specialists. The project takes place at the University of Nebras- ka West Central Research and Extension Center at North Platte and has attracted the attention of researchers from uni- versities in neighboring states and across the country. “It’s not going to fade away,” anytime soon, said Chuck Burr, water crop- ping systems educator at WCREC. He manages TAPS along with water management specialist Daran Rudnick and agri- cultural economist Matt Stockton.

Photos courtesy of University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension A grain sorghum plot is pictured in this year’s TAPS project at the UNL West Central Research and Extension Center at North Platte.

other nutrient content. If pesticides are needed, the entire area is sprayed equally. There are also control plots where no wa- ter or nitrogen are applied for comparison. The same site will not be used two consecutive years for TAPS. Last year’s TAPS site is grow- ing soybeans this year, a crop that will scavenge residual nitrogen to cre- ate a uniform site for next year’s TAPS farms. The university has a computerized pivot sprinkler system. Each pair of nozzles is operated by a separate solenoid in the panel, said Burr, and is programmed every Monday and Thursday for desired application rates, to reflect farmers’ deci- sions. Next year the univer- sity plans to add drip irrigation to the project. The university also uses aerial photography and satellite imagery at the site. It gives a visual clue as to how the crop is doing on each farm, and also introduces participating farmers to technology

results are anonymous, not linked to participant names, except for win- ning entries. Last year, 15 corn farms and participants came from throughout south- west Nebraska and the UNL Ag Club in Lincoln. This year there are par- ticipants from Big Springs to Lincoln and from three locations in Kansas. This year’s awards will be presented at a ban- quet in December. Last year Tim Schmeeckle of Gothenburg was awarded $320 for greatest grain yield and $1,000 for high- est input use efficiency. Roric Paulman of Suther- land received $2,000 for most profitable farm. The environment is highly controlled to make it as fair as possi- ble. Plots are assigned randomly and the soil over the entire area is of a uniform type and has uniform phosphorus and

that they may not have used in their own opera- tions. Last year water appli- cation rates ranged from about 2.5 inches to 11 inches per acre. Nitrogen applications ranged from 145 to 240 pounds per acre. However, most of the yields were within 30 bushels of each other, said Burr. Participants used different marketing approaches, and selling prices varied quite a bit, he said. “We live in a different world than we did 40 to 50 years ago,” Stockton said, with greater ability to make changes. “People are more aggressive in marketing strategies” and are putting a lot of thought into crop in- surance. Farming has become highly technical, he said. “We have guys who are PhDs” out there farming. Each year is different; this year humidity has been higher, said Burr, so “you can dry down the soil more” than in most years, toward the end of the season. We don’t know how this year’s crops will

turn out yet, said Stock- ton; it’s not easy to pre- dict. Hail removed about 10 percent of the leaf surface, but it was late in the growing season and should have little impact on yields, he said. Compared with tradi- tional replicated research TAPS is “an experien- tial learning” system, Stockton said. Data will accumulate over time and may result in “refinement more than changing” uni- versity recommendations, with greater emphasis on making decisions within the context of the circum- stances that exist. “Last year we weren’t sure the value” in it, said Stockton, but now the university is firmly com- mitted to TAPS and the agriculture industry “is becoming more and more interested.” Researchers from Kan- sas, Colorado and Oklaho- ma State universities and the University of Missouri are considering whether to implement the project in their own areas. But it’s not as easy to do as it may sound, said Stockton.

Photos courtesy of University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension An aerial photograph taken July 4 by Flying M Aviation shows the pivot-irrigated field where the TAPS project is located, in the southeast corner of State Farm Road and South Highway 83.

Photos courtesy of University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension This diagram shows the 2018 corn plots in the TAPS project at the UNL West Cen tral Research and Extension Center at North Platte. Each of the 20 farms consists of three plots in a randomized arrangements.


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