Around since 1983, Arkansas' Soybean Research Verification Program has proven a mainstay. “It is a great opportunity for Extension and the University of Arkansas to take research directly to farms,” says Chris Tingle, Extension soybean specialist.
“The demonstrations on the farm validate our recommendations.”
There is no slap-dash approach to the program. Next year already is being planned. “This is not something we can just throw together,” says Tingle. “We're identifying fields, sampling soils, and getting field histories. We'll base fertilizer recommendations on what the tests tell us.”
Arkansas has two verification coordinators. Dwayne Beaty covers the central and southern part of the state. Trey Reaper works the Arkansas River Valley and the northeast. “This year we have 19 fields in the program,” says Tingle. “We work with county Extension agents to target problem fields or young producers who might be helped by our recommendations.”
The verification program, supported by check-off funds administered by the Arkansas Soybean Promotion Board, is also an “educational tool” for county agents, says Tingle. In fields, agents “develop producer relationships and are seen in the community. The program merges research and Extension and (keeps everyone in the loop).”
All recommendations are based on economic thresholds. Beaty, a verification coordinator since 1997, elaborates: “We've done a lot of research not only on what'll increase and protect yields, but also on the economics. Sure, we could apply more fertilizer or spray a fungicide — but will it provide a yield bump that makes economic sense?”
Beaty prefers county agents find cooperators. “One important aspect of this program is to have cooperators who will do what Extension recommends,” says Beaty. “We put no money into (the fields). The farmers assume all the responsibilities and provide the inputs. When we recommend a fungicide, herbicide or insecticide application, it comes out of their pockets.”
In return for his commitment, a producer gets plenty from Extension. “The beauty of the verification program is it's beneficial to all,” says Hank Cheney, Prairie County agent.
“You can't say that about many things. It verifies recommendations, but it also exposes gaps in our (knowledge). Sometimes in a problem field we'll recognize our data (is lacking). We go to our researchers and tell them what they need to be checking…. Perhaps most important is that it shows the benefits of proper application timing.”
Visits and more
The program is set up for weekly visits from Extension representatives. Sometimes agents will visit more frequently. “There have been insect and disease concerns that had us in fields two or three times weekly,” says Beaty.
“Sometimes we don't see much difference in a field from week to week, but it's still important to visit anyway… to get a feel for what's happening.”
This year, weather station data was included. Before, field-side rain gauges were standard — something Beaty is happy to be rid of.
“Sometimes it was difficult to determine the exact day the rain occurred,” he says. “With the weather stations, that information is (collected for us).”
Tingle says a common misperception needs clearing up: Extension doesn't choose the varieties planted in verification fields. Growers do.
“We're testing 300-plus soybean varieties yearly,” Tingle says. “There are a lot of options for our growers. The SoyVa computer program produces a list of recommended varieties based on each field's profile. Does the field have soilborne disease? Nematodes? What region is it in?” From the SoyVa list of “five, 10 or 20 varieties,” the cooperator indicates his preference.
Beaty and his colleagues' work reaches far beyond the verification fields. “Yeah, we may be affecting only 80 acres directly,” he says, “but neighbors are watching, and a cooperator will apply the practices to the rest of his operation.”
Cheney is excited about the program's possibilities. “One limit is how many growers we can work with,” he says. “I wish we could work with more…. It's good for everyone involved.”