Have you ever wondered if more irrigation or if more nitrogen applied through fertigation would increase yields, profits, or both?
Through a program developed by the University of Nebraska, farmers are at-tempting to answer that question. Known as TAPS (Testing Ag Performance Solutions), the innovative program facilitates a number of interactive, real-life farm management competitions that focus on evolving profit-ability and input use efficiency.
In each case, contestants make decisions on a number of management options on their “farm,” which includes three plots equal to about 0.5 acre. Those decisions, depending on the competition, can include crop insurance selection; hybrid selection; planting density; marketing strategy; irrigation scheduling and quantity; and fertilizer timing, amount, and method.
“The competitions are designed to bring together university scientists and Extension professionals, along with producers and industry leaders by fostering relationships among all stakeholders in crop production,” says Daran Rudnick, of the University of Nebraska and a member of the TAPS leader-ship team. “Five years ago, the competition started with sprinkler-irrigated corn under a variable-rate pivot irrigation system administered from the West Central Research, Extension and Education Center in North Platte.” By 2020, the program had expanded to include competitions for sprinkler- irrigated corn, sprinkler- irrigated sorghum, and subsurface drip-irrigated corn. A winter wheat competition was added in 2019. In the meantime, the program was expanded to Oklahoma State University.
Test a Large Variety of Strategies the low-risk environment offers participants the ability to test a large variety of strategies and technologies, as well as give them access to a large dataset from the competitions at the end of the year, Rudnick adds. “Each ‘farm’ is randomly assigned within the respective completion areas, which are all in close proximity under the same pivot.”
The 2021 sprinkler corn competition, for example, saw 30 teams from across Nebraska, Colorado, and Kansas competing in the UNL-TAPS sprinkler corn competition, with another 16 teams each in the sub-surface drip-irrigated corn competition and the irrigated sorghum competition.
“At the end of the competition, the yields and costs from each ‘farm’ are amplified to represent 3,000 harvested acres for the sprinkler-irrigated corn competition and 1,000 acres for the sorghum and SDI competitions,” Rudnick says. “These sizes are consistent with modern- size farming operations and, therefore, allow easier recognition of the effects even small decisions have on outcomes and profitability.”
In addition to hybrid selection and planting population, participants have to decide on the amount of preplant fertilizer, irrigation timing, and irrigation amount, which could range from 0 to 1 inch in intervals of ½ inches. In addition to the preplant amount, participants have the option to fertigate four times. Prizes are awarded in three categories:
- Most profitable farm, based on revenue minus expenses.
- Highest input use efficiency, which compares the effect of nitrogen and irrigation input on grain yield with respect to a control treatment.
- Greatest grain yield. As might be expected, the highest yield didn’t always equal more profitability.
However, that wasn’t the case in 2020, when a plot managed by Mark McConnell of Paxton, Nebraska, won for greatest grain yield and most profitable (the latter having a lot to do with the team’s marketing skills, which cleared them a profit of $437 per acre, or $161 more than the second-place team).
Competition results are available to any producers who want to compare the inputs and winning entries with their own program. For more information, go to taps.unl.edu.