Testing: Lubben works with Iowa Soybean Association in research trials

Dave Lubben of Monticello poses in his field during an Iowa Soybean Association photo shoot. Lubben conducts research trials for the ISA. (Photos courtesy of Joseph L. Murphy, Iowa Soybean Association)

Saying “Every field is a test plot,” Dave Lubben uses his own fields to experiment with new agricultural products.
Pete Temple
Express Sports/Ag Editor

     There is a mantra Dave Lubben of Monticello lives by as he conducts annual research trials on his farm:

     “Every field is a test plot,” Lubben says.

     Lubben has been using parts of his field as test plots since 1989.

     “After college I saw an article in a magazine,” Lubben said. “Some guy (tested) his strips all the way across the field in his own equipment, and I thought, ‘Hey, I can do that.’ So that’s how I got started.”

     He elicited help from Jim Lummus, who was then the Jones County Extension director.

     “So we set up a couple plots, using my own equipment,” Lubben said.

     He performed on-farm research for Practical Farmers of Iowa for several years. Then, about 10 years ago, he began doing the same thing for the Iowa Soybean Association’s On-Farm Network.

     Lubben collects the data, sends it to the ISA, and the organization crunches the numbers to see if new products are resulting in significant increases in yield. The ISA has called on Lubben for comments in feature articles in its monthly Iowa Soybean Review, most recently for the December 2018 issue.

     “I was featured in that magazine a year ago, and then they did another one this fall,” Lubben said, before adding with a laugh: “They’re getting some mileage out of it.”

     Lubben works with his son-in-law, Neal Grant, to test products. They can be seeds, fertilizers, fungicides, herbicides, even mechanical items that can be added to farm equipment. In each case, the company offering the product insists that it will increase yields; Lubben tests them to see if the claims are valid.

     “Everybody has a product out there, trying to sell you something,” he said. “I get to pick which ones I want to try.

     “The nice thing about doing your own research, is, you have a question: ‘Will this product give me a yield increase?’

     “I can test a product, using my soil types, and my management style. Everybody plants corn, but everybody does it a little bit different. And my soil types might be different from my neighbor’s or what you read in a magazine.”

     Variations throughout a single field can also produce different results, Lubben said.

     “We’re trying to figure out: What’s normal variation, and what’s the variation that the product is giving me?” he said. “Is the product giving me something, or is it just variation within the field?”

     For that reason, Lubben tests products all the way across a field, half with, half without.

     “The more replications you have, the more reliable the data,” he said.

     Even if results show yield increases, Lubben also tries to determine whether the increases are enough to justify the cost of adding the product.

     “We do an economic analysis to look for two things,” he said. “We look for an agronomic yield increase, and then we also look for an economic yield increase: Did it pay for itself?

     “What we found, is on corn, it usually takes about 10 bushels an acre of yield increase to justify a product, and about five bushels an acre on soybeans.”

     When Lubben is presented with a product, he often tests it more than once, since weather and other factors can produce different results.

     “We try to do things over three years, to say, ‘OK, is this (yield increase) a one-year fluke, or will it be something that we can see every year?’

     “One I was testing said it would give me a 10 percent yield increase,” Lubben said. “So I tried it, eight rows with, eight rows without. We didn’t see any results.

     “We did it a second year. Didn’t see any results again. The third year, the company wouldn’t sell me any product, because I publish my data.”

     Lubben said he and Grant try something – sometimes more than one thing – every year.

     “We’ve tried out several different things over the years,” Lubben said. “And the interesting thing is, most of the stuff doesn’t give us a significant increase in yield. Maybe one year it does, the next year will be a break even, and the third year will be a loss.”

     In 2018, they tried a different brand of fertilizer and a fungicide.

     “They’re crunching the numbers for me right now,” Lubben said. “We’ll see. If I get positive results, I’ll try it again.”

     He has also experimented with mechanical things, along with different tillage and non-tillage ideas.

     The data he sends to the ISA is collected and shared across the state.

     “Their goal is to have one farmer in every county to do some research,” he said. “They combine us all. Then you can go back and look at other data, other things that people have tried. And then you can look at how many replications they did, and what type of soil types, and it’s all on the web.

     “It’s been interesting.”



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