The value of long-running field experiments

By: Dr. B - Science Liason, Agrible, Inc. 

As a science-led company in agriculture, with more than a few connections to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, we, at Agrible, have a soft spot in our hearts for the Morrow Plots, and for all long-term agricultural experimental plots. So much so, that one of my "Farms" in my Morning Farm Report® is made up of nine of the longest running field experiments in the United States. It's fun to watch today's radar floating across history, and to see Tractor Time Daily (shown) change colors across the country in response to the big weather systems I learn about from Eric Snodgrass every Monday in the Weekly Ag Forecast

This week, as you can imagine, I was surprised and delighted when I checked my mailbox and found the cover story of this month's CSA News smiling up at me. (I am, of course, happy every month to find CSA News in my mailbox, who isn't?). This month was especially bright because a playfully partially-colored cover photo of the Long-term Ecological Research (LTER) plots in Hickory Corners, MI (The North-most tagged field in My Map, above) was splashed with the promising headline "The value of long-term data in agricultural systems." I tucked the magazine in my bag and dashed to work. This I had to read! 

When I finally got a chance to sit down with a cup of coffee and flip to the article, I was delighted to see the familiar Morrow Plots sign that I walked past almost every day during my PhD work at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. 

As I read, I learned more about the importance of long-term data in agricultural systems, and the practical importance of funding scientific research, even when - especially when - dealing with long-term factors like climate and weather. As author Tracy Hmielowski points out, 

Data from short-term experiments are often used to extrapolate the results researchers would expect to see in the future. However, the response of soil properties, yields, and pests can change in unexpected ways. 
Long-term research is essential to determine how agricultural systems change over time. Measuring the same data for years, decades, and even centuries can help researchers build accurate models of long-term processes. Discussing several examples of long-term experiments with members of ASA, CSSA, and SSSA reveals common challenges in conducting long-term research and great optimism for these plots to continue. 

I, for one, am looking forward to being on the right side of history as Agrible brings our scientific understanding of the importance of weather and long-term data sets to our forward-thinking predictive analytics. Farmers are the ones who benefit most from our predictive analytics and from long-term, forward-thinking ag science experiments. In a two or three year experiment, Mother Nature could easily throw you all three wet years, and you might not learn what you need to deal with dry years or cold years, etc. With consistent, long-term experiments, researchers can really determine how different cropping systems interact with weather, not to mention soils, weeds, insects, climate, agronomic practices, mechanical technology, and more. These interactions all go from scientific literature into our tools like Sustainable Sourcing, Field Story™, Field Forecast, Advanced Nutrient Engine, Tractor Time Daily, Tractor Time Hourly, Yield Engine, Spray Smart™, Critical Periods, Air & Space, and more. 

Here at Agrible, we've got your back (and your back 40). 

Hmielowski, T. 2017. The value of long-term data in agricultural systems. CSA News 62:4-7. doi:10.2134/csa2017.62.0101.