Fast Decisions, More Profit

A new online tool uses strip-trial results to help soybean and corn farmers.

Brent Renner uses the ISOFAST system to help with input selections, Image by Bob Elbert

The Iowa Soybean Association (ISA) recently launched a one-of-kind free decision-making tool that can aid corn farmers, too.

The association, in conjunction with Iowa State University (ISU), developed the Interactive Summaries of On-Farm Strip Trials (ISOFAST). It uses results from about 3,500 replicated strip trials--ranging from fertilizer and crop protection to tillage and row spacing--to help producers make well-informed input and agronomic decisions.

Farm-management aid tools aren’t uncommon. What makes ISOFAST unique is results are based on independent trials from farmers’ fields measuring yield, and it shows what’s driving the response, ISA analytics director Peter Kyveryga explains.

“I don’t know of any other on-farm research group from commodity organizations or universities offering anything like ISOFAST,” Kyveryga says. “It not only provides the probability of an economic response of a specific product or practice, but it also tells under what conditions trial data was collected, like weather, soil type and topography.

“Farmers will be able to make better decisions for their farms,” he continues.

A pilot version of ISOFAST debuted in 2018 on the ISA website (www.iasoybeans.com). There were only a handful of soybean and corn categories from which to choose.

Options highlighted during the recent ISA Farmer Research Tour have grown considerably this year with the product’s official release. Farmers can choose from 18 soybean and 12 corn categories, including fungicides, insecticides, seed treatments and others.

TRUSTED RESULTS

The ISA On-Farm Network has partnered with farmers for more than a decade to conduct on-farm replicated strip trials to compare products and practices in different environments under real-world management conditions. Individual trial summary reports are available online.

To get the most out of the information when farmers are struggling to make money, Kyveryga says simple aggregation of data isn’t sufficient to make informed decisions. That prompted the ISA and ISU to develop the interactive management tool.

“Farmers are looking for ways to increase profits or reduce losses,” he adds. “We wanted to create a very simple, intuitive and visual tool that a farmer can utilize for economic information. And, by knowing the weather, growing degree days and other conditions during the growing year, that will give farmers more confidence in making decisions.”

ISOFAST FEATURES

The tool’s capabilities for each study include:

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> listing on-farm study rationale, trial locations, field management and weather

> dynamic graphics to better communicate statistical summaries, variability and uncertainty in yield differences within and across trials

> a break-even economic analyses calculator using cost and price inputs provided by users

> summarizing key scouting, soil and tissue observations for tested treatments

> providing short summaries, which can be downloaded in PDF form, for aid in decision-making for farmers and agronomists.

ISA director Brent Renner, of Klemme, Iowa, is using ISOFAST this growing season. Every input needs to be scrutinized as row-crop farmers struggle to break even, he says.

“What’s appealing to me is there are inputs like fungicides that can vary widely in cost,” explains Renner, a corn and soybean farmer. “And, higher yields doesn’t always mean a return on investment. I can plug in a particular fungicide, its cost and put in today’s price of soybeans to decide whether to purchase it, a different one or none at all.”

For foliar fungicides, ISOFAST contains six selections for soybeans and four for corn. Brands include Headline, Stratego, Quadris and more.

Kyveryga says the amount of unbiased data, details and economic analysis sets ISOFAST apart from other agronomic decision-making tools. All trial data is reported, regardless of whether it is favorable for a company.

The tool will show how many trials were statistically significant and the confidence level of results.

“I feel more confident using the association’s data than relying on a salesman, whose findings could be skewed in their favor,” Renner says.

An interactive map will show landform regions and trial locations for each study. By clicking on any individual location, year, trial identification and number of treatment replications become visible. The trial identification can be used to track rainfall, economics and other data. Farmers can see the number of cumulative growing degree days or comb over scouting reports where available.

Results go beyond a one-year trial snapshot.

“Pooling years of data together will give a better, more certain response,” Kyveryga says.

Even though on-farm trials were conducted in Iowa, Kyveryga says ISOFAST can help farmers beyond the Hawkeye State.

He contends there’s enough relevant information that corn and soybean producers in other regions can benefit.

“Some of these practices go beyond state lines like soybean cyst nematode,” Kyveryga says.

The ISA used soybean checkoff funds to develop ISOFAST. The project is now bankrolled by ISU-based Iowa Soybean Research Center, which is also partially financed by the soybean checkoff.

ISOFAST will continually be updated with additional trials and categories, ISA officials say. An ISU agronomy graduate student is assisting the association’s analytics team with statistical analyses and program coding.

BEYOND SOYBEANS

ISA research director Ed Anderson says the decision aid is all about the bottom line. Farmers need to turn a profit to survive.

Since most soybean producers grow corn, as well, Anderson explains conducting research on both crops and including findings in ISOFAST financially benefits its members. Funding for corn research is provided by industry partners and other sources, not the soybean checkoff.

“Everything we do is directed toward helping farmers be more profitable,” Anderson says. “We want producers to be highly productive and sustainable, but practices and inputs have to pencil out.”

Farmer Mike Helland, of Huxley, Iowa, intends to check out ISOFAST. He noted it’s a good expenditure of checkoff funds.

“It’s one more tool to be more precise on what I spend,” he says.

FOR MORE INFORMATION:

> ISOFAST

> Follow Matthew on Twitter: @progressivwilde

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